Everything has its beginning — even the most invisible one. The unforeseen visitor first unleashed its might on one of the most powerful countries today: China. It then quickly became the epicenter of the said visitor, particularly the city of Wuhan. It has been rumored that it started as early as November 2019 but the official statement from the Chinese government stated that it only started around December 2019. This is just the start of the visitor becoming a world phenomenon and a pandemic that eventually affected and still affects millions of people worldwide.
There were already rumors spreading about the unforeseen intruder, but it had not yet affected the countries very near to it. It was just around the first month of the year when the invisible visitor a.k.a novel coronavirus started to spread its power worldwide, and the Philippines — a country very near to the epicenter — first felt the impact of its power. The Philippines was not ready for the unexpected battle that it was about to face and it seemed the government only came up with a plan when the first case was confirmed. Little did we know that the virus was just introducing itself to the country and what it can further unleash and thus, was here to stay for months to come until the government could come up with an effective and efficient action plan that could not just minimize the negative impacts of it but to eradicate it completely. This was the beginning of a battle we didn’t expect that we will all be fighting hand-in-hand, but we Filipinos are known to be the bravest of all people and would surely not concede without giving a great fight.
REACTION CREATES RESPONSE
A female tourist tested positive for the novel coronavirus within the Philippines. The 38-year-old Chinese national coming from Wuhan, China was one of the many victims soon to come during these arduous times.
After the news broke of the virus entering the country, numerous lawmakers urged the President to close borders even before the first-ever recorded case but were all denied, arguing that imposing a travel ban might be difficult to undertake. However, by February 2, President Duterte finally expanded the travel ban to include all of China as well as Hong Kong and Macau.
Succeeding numerous calls urging Malacañang to bar all Chinese nationals from entering the Philippines, President Duterte said that to do so is a sign of disrespect to a human being and has stated that he will not prohibit them from entering the country even if he had already declared a travel ban on all of China, Hong Kong, and Macau on a previous date.
“This kind of mentioning the Chinese and blaming them, it’s like a Xenophobia,” he said, also stating that, “China has been kind to us; we should show the same favor to them. Stop this xenophobia thing.”
END OF NORMALCY
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the official name of the virus: Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) lifted the travel ban on Taiwan. Four days later, IATF allowed Filipinos residing within Hong Kong and Macau to return to the Philippines, provided that they sign health waivers.
After the sixth confirmed case of local transmission, the Department of Health (DOH) raised the COVID-19 Alert System to Code Red sublevel 1. With this, the DOH recommended to the Office of the President the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency which will facilitate mobilization of resources, ease processes including procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensify reporting according to doh.gov.ph.
President Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922 ordering all agencies and LGUs to render full assistance in combating and eliminating the COVID-19 threat, giving DOH the authority to call upon the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies to provide assistance against the disease. The next day, President Duterte declared a State of Public Health Emergency under Proclamation No. 922, ordering all citizens, residents, tourists, and establishment owners to comply with the directives to be issued by appropriate government agencies to prevent transmission of the virus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the production of COVID-19 rapid test kits by the University of the Philippines, which received ₱53.2 million from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Around this time, President Duterte also ordered the suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila from March 10-14.
The President decreed the suspension of classes in all levels and work for one month or until April 12, taking effect on March 15. Local government units outside NCR may exercise “sound discretion” in determining whether or not they should suspend classes or work in their areas. He then ordered a community lockdown over all of Metro Manila until April 12.
Entry travel restrictions were imposed upon those traveling from countries with localized COVID-19 transmissions, except for Filipino citizens. Mass transportation within Metro Manila shall continue to operate with social distancing guidelines.
The President advised all Filipinos to not panic as the government was doing all it could to prevent the spread of the virus as well as doing everything possible to contain it.
This marked the first day of the 30-day period of no classes and work.
“I have come to the conclusion that stricter measures are necessary. For this reason, pursuant to my powers as President under the Constitution and RA 11332, I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under quarantine until April 12, 2020,” said President Duterte.
Luzon was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) effective March 17, only allowing the movement of people working in critical sectors (supermarkets, food production and preparation, banks, and media). All business owners not part of the critical sectors feared as they would face a month without finances and must look for alternative businesses or seek government grants.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles urged all businesses to shut down if the outbreak worsens and appealed to private companies to release the 13th-month pay to their workers who would be affected by the lockdown.
Public transportation was banned.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. announced the temporary suspension of visa issuance to all foreign individuals and cancellation of existing ones.
“There is only one republic here, the Republic of the Philippines, and therefore, you should abide by the directives of the national government,” said Duterte.
The President warned Local Government Units (LGUs) to follow all the national government’s directives or face administrative cases after Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto’s appeal to exempt tricycles from travel restriction placed on public utility vehicles. This came as a surprise for a lot as the President was a staunch supporter of Federalism or the decentralization of powers during his presidential campaign.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had a special session to deliberate President Duterte’s request to realign funds for COVID-19 response.
The House of Representatives approved HB 6616 or “Bayanihan Bill” with 284-9-0 votes through a virtual special session. This bill will provide the President with additional powers to handle COVID-19 within three months unless extended by Congress.
Some of these powers include the power to realign as much as P275 billion in government funds and direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, and other similar establishments to serve as quarantine areas and medical relief and distribution locations.
It was Deputy Majority Leader and Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, acting Floor Leader, who moved for the approval of the Bill which took only 14 hours to pass.
The “Bayanihan Bill” was submitted to the Senate and with 12-0-0 votes (and 7-1-0 from non-attending senators), the Senate approved Senate Bill 1481 or the “We Heal as One” bill.
Combining both versions of the Upper and the Lower Houses, the bill was dubbed “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”. The bill was then sent to the President for approval.
President Duterte signed the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020” into law, granting him 30 additional powers to handle COVID-19 and its projected aftermath.
The IATF approved a two-month emergency subsidy program for 18 million families worth ₱200 billion. Families in the provinces are to receive ₱5,000 per month, while those in Metro Manila would get ₱8,000.
The Health department bought one million complete sets of personal protective equipment for health workers for ₱1.8 billion.
THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS
“We are awaiting for God’s blessing na magkaroon tayo ng vaccine either from sino diyan na bright boy: China, Russia, America. I’m sure na kung meron na sila, they will share it with the rest of the world,” Duterte said in his speech on the fight against COVID-19.
While the government waits hopefully for a vaccine, government agencies sought approaches to have a solid handle on the nation’s financing and planning for this pandemic. The Social Welfare department acquired an initial ₱100 billion for the first month of the cash subsidy to the working poor and poverty-stricken families.
The Department of Finance (DOF) secured ₱78.6 billion in early dividend payments from government-possessed and controlled organizations. It also pushed back the income tax payment cutoff time to May 15, postponing the assortment of revenues amounting to ₱145 billion.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) began releasing ₱27 billion to 5,094 health facilities across the country to cover the bills of COVID-19 patients. The Budget department identified ₱189.8 billion worth of projects under the 2019 and 2020 budgets that will be discontinued. Of this, ₱4.2 billion came from subsidies to government corporations. The money will be realigned for COVID-19 response efforts.
A ₱5.2-billion additional budget was allotted to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (₱3.9 billion), Department of Health (₱600 million), Department of Interior and Local Government (₱520.6 million), Department of Science and Technology (₱53.2 million), and Department of Labor and Employment (₱100 million).
President Duterte signed Administrative Order 28 that grants a one-time special risk allowance for medical frontliners, worth 25 percent of a public health worker’s basic pay.
The President extended the ECQ or lockdown for the entire Luzon until April 30, from the original April 12.
The Budget department released the ₱30.8 billion “Bayanihan Grant” to local government units to sustain relief efforts.
For our overseas fellow Filipinos, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III announced the ₱1.5 billion cash aid for overseas Filipino workers displaced by lockdowns abroad. Each Overseas Filipino worker is to receive $200 or P10 000. Dominguez also revealed a ₱1.17-trillion response plan, consisting of four pillars: emergency support to the vulnerable, additional resources to fight COVID-19, fiscal and monetary actions, and an economic recovery plan.
Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista admitted difficulties in distributing cash aid to families.
The World Bank approved a $500 million (about ₱25 billion) loan for the Philippines’ COVID-19 response.
Workers in micro, small, and medium enterprises will also receive cash aid through the ₱51 billion Small Business Wage Subsidy Program, an aid intended for some middle-class Filipinos. Dominguez said the country is “financially prepared” for quarantine measures until the end of May.
Of this response package, the government intends to spend ₱648 billion through a mix of subsidies, loan lines, and additional medical equipment. Nearly a third of the amount covers the cash aid to the poorest, while ₱58.5 billion will be spent on test kits, protective gear, health insurance, and additional pay for health workers.
The Finance Department stated that the government’s response package is now worth ₱1.49 trillion, requiring some ₱310 billion borrowings from foreign sources.
Economic managers admitted that cash is running low for COVID-19 measures, saying that it had already released ₱352 billion out of the ₱397 billion which the government has realigned under the national budgets. Dominguez said the administration may need to ask Congress for authority to tap additional funds, as they hold the power of the purse.
The government released some ₱245 billion in savings from canceled programs and special-purpose funds to augment response funding, the President said in his weekly report to Congress.
The Interior Department announced that it will add five million families in the list of families entitled to cash aid. This could be worth at least ₱25 billion if they are to receive a one-time aid worth ₱5,000.
All flights to and from the country have been temporarily suspended to “mitigate” the spread of the coronavirus as ordered by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the National Task Force COVID-19.
“This decision is meant to decongest our quarantine facilities to protect our people by preventing the further spread of COVID-19 and also ensure that our overseas Filipino workers are well taken care of when they arrive from abroad,” Galvez stated.
“The new flight restriction is only temporary and will be implemented for one week to give the government the opportunity to decongest the quarantine facilities in Metro Manila,” he added.
Dominguez stated that the Executive will no longer ask Congress for a supplemental budget, citing the need to be prudent as government revenues decline.
“Cha-Cha can wait. We will first have to attend to measures that will save lives and the livelihood of our people. So my message to Cha-Cha advocates and their DILG patrons is: Stop it, it won’t fly while there is a pandemic,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
On the same day, news about Chinese workers at the Fontana resort complex receiving their COVID-19 test results earlier than the Filipino repatriates flared after learning that the swab tests of these Chinese workers were taken later than the Filipino workers. The testing of 490 Chinese workers in Fontana followed the police raid of an alleged underground coronavirus clinic operating illegally in a villa inside the resort complex. There were reportedly around 70 Filipinos also working in the vicinity, but they were not tested for the virus.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) was set to require local government units to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians as the fight against the coronavirus impedes the availability of public transportation options.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires told reporters that he had created a joint investigating team (JIT) to look at supposed irregularities, including the “confusing and delayed reporting” of coronavirus cases and deaths.
Leachon said that the government failed to communicate a COVID-19 game plan. On top of that, President Duterte’s Administration has incurred massive loans in trying to save the country from this pandemic.
The Phillippines hit a new record for most fresh COVID-19 cases in a day, an astounding 578 cases, as country total breaches 29,000. A day later, the country hit 30,000 cases.
“Alam mo huwag na lang tayong magsisihan kasi nandiyan na rin ‘yan,” Duterte said in his speech last June 20.
As Ombudsman probes DOH, Duterte defends Duque anew. “Itaya ko ‘yung reputasyon as President, walang kalokohan,” said the President despite various accusations against Duque.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque congratulated the Philippines on beating UP prediction of 40 000 nationwide COVID-19 cases. 36,438 people tested positive for the virus as of June 29.
The country has reached 44,254 COVID-19 cases as of this day.
For the past six months, we witnessed how such a minuscule virus has brought deaths and calamities to everyone with no exception. With its might, it was like a phantom that could calm busy streets, instill fear with its presence unseen but lurks within our midst. It was an unforeseen phenomenon that caught everyone off guard. It made people feel hopeless and the situation somewhat endless. The world believes that this virus marks the end but our fight with the virus is far from over.
In the present, citizens may condemn the government for its slacking compared to other countries in dealing with the pandemic but we should not forget those who did fulfill their duties and extended their help towards our heroes without capes — our medical staff and other frontliners. The Philippines was never a country that backed off and accepted defeat without a fight. Just like how our ancestors fought against the tyranny of foreign colonizers and overpowered rulers who abused their powers to oppress our freedom, the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another fight we look forward to conquering.
LAYOUT BY: Cristine Joie Q. Bacud
PHOTO SOURCE(S): onenews.ph, ABS-CBN News, Manila Today, Rappler, Philippine News Agency