Covering up its failure to address the plight of the masses and protect them from the pandemic and its impact, the Duterte regime used fascist terror to suppress people’s rights and prevent them from rising up just as joblessness and rural dispossession worsened; prices of food and commodities and taxes soared; and, money’s real value plunged.
The country now holds a record level of joblessness with some 5.8 million unemployed. Unprotected by the government, those who still have work were forced to accede to wage cuts, by as much as 50 percent, just to keep them afloat. While the regime gave big businesses tax incentives to recoup lost profits, it turned a blind eye to unsafe workplaces despite reports of outbreaks of Covid-19 in factories and economic zones. The regime allowed employers to “self-regulate” or self-check whether their work environment are safe. And, with the “no work, no pay” policy in place, workers were left to fend for themselves.
The sight of jeepney drivers begging on the streets gives one of the most graphic images of the Duterte regime’s criminal negligence and violation of the people’s social and economic rights. It insisted on implementing its long-time plan to “modernize” jeepneys, i.e., corporatize it in favor of a handful of capitalists.
The Duterte regime turned even more virulent against workers’ struggles during the pandemic. Under the excuse of deploying troops to ensure peace and order amid lockdown, it sent soldiers and paramilitary troops to thwart unionizing in economic zones. It redtagged and harassed unionists and in some cases, even rounded up some of them and misrepresented to the media as rebel surrenderees. Urban poor communities were told to keep out, or monitor, “new faces” coming in.
In the countryside, farmers were prohibited from working on their farms and from bringing their produce to the markets. In areas the Duterte regime suspects as guerrilla zones, farmers’ purchase even of rice was monitored. The Duterte regime inserted military troops in civilian activities related to facing COVID 19, such as in distribution of relief and aid to pinpointed communities. Meanwhile, troops continue to protect operations or expansion of big mining corporations, plantations, energy projects such as dams.
As military and police personnel and facilities were used to facilitate these operations, the lack of infrastructure support to food producers became stark. Thus, dumped produce along the roads were a common sight while there were food shortage and hunger in the cities. The government offered loans, not aid, to the farmers who struggled between earning and paying for exorbitant prices of farm supplies, usurious loans, and land rent.
Despite all these, Pres. Duterte refused to let go of his intelligence and confidential budget. He did not suspend debt payments or realign funds from its “build, build, build” projects to boost the budget for health services, education, and cash aid for those dislocated economically. There was no fund for safe learning spaces and medical assistance for teachers. The huge amount of loans, in 2020 alone, from international lending agencies, was hardly felt on the ground. In fact, the bulk of new loans incurred in the name of COVID response was not necessarily for COVID, but support for private sector and infrastructure projects.
In giving out emergency aid the government resorted to tokenism. Research organization IBON cited a mere 64,839 beneficiaries received an average of Php6,720 subsidy during the lockdown; while the labor deparment was only able to assist some 350,000 workers.
Instead of compensating for lost incomes, the Duterte regime humiliated, accused, arrested and jailed those who denounced the dismal condition of the people. Worse, it vilified and harassed groups taking collective actions to help others. Even humanitarian missions and community kitchens for people’s immediate relief from hunger were red-tagged, its participants arrested and jailed. Workers’ strikes and mass actions were met with violence.
Freedom of expression and press freedom were curtailed. The regime’s militarist approach was specifically trained against the marginalized and their advocates. The regime showed hostility to challenges to its tyranny and to the crumbling exploitative and oppressive system it is trying to save for the bureaucrat capitalists and its allies, for its imperialist masters and partners among the local compradors and big landlords.
Magsawalang kibo sa gitna ng kahirapan at pang-aapi – shut up or be jailed or killed was the regime’s standard response. It was more active at benefiting its ilk and shutting down criticisms to its tyrannical rule than fighting the coronavirus. ###