Bayan Muna to Duterte: Why let military men lead public health crisis?
MANILA, Philippines — Why appoint military officials, not health experts, to lead the government’s fight against the public health menace COVID-19?
This was the question raised by Bayan Muna party-list lawmakers, as President Rodrigo Duterte appointed yet another former military officer to lead the implementation of the government’s National Action Plan (NAP) to combat the highly-infectious respiratory disease.
According to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, people more well-versed about health issues should have been tapped to head the enforcement of the NAP.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been designated at the helm of the committee that would oversee the implementation of the NAP with former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief and now Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as its vice-chair. On Thursday, ex-AFP chief and now Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. was appointed as the NAP’s chief implementer.
“A health or medical expert along with an experienced progressive economist or national planner would have been better appointed as co-chairs and implementers as they would be more attuned to what is needed to address the crisis we are facing — one that requires not a militarist framework,” Zarate asserted.
“Are we now in a state of undeclared martial rule and a de facto junta is now running the country?” he then asked.
Also named members of the council that will carry out the government’s NAP against COVID-19 were retired Army general and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Archie Gamboa.
But the appointments of these military and police officers, according to Zarate, only fans the flames of speculations that the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is actually an “undeclared martial law.”
“Sec. Galvez’s latest appointment as the czar of the supposedly high health, medical, and economic crisis we are facing due to COVID-19 only bolsters the argument that the current […] lockdown in many parts of the country is an undeclared martial law,” Zarate said.
Earlier, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases denied that the appointment of former military officials to the NAP council was a prelude to military rule.
On the other hand, Bayan Muna Reps. Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat have warned that the recent reports of abuse — including an incident in Quiapo where a police officer supposedly threatened people in the streets even if they have the proper quarantine pass — may increase during this crisis.
“From caging minors who violated the curfew, to people being held under the midday sun, and now this. Authorities have been empowered to commit abuses as the government confronts the health crisis as a peace and order issue instead of a medical one,” Gaite said. “But let me remind our authorities, a community quarantine is not a military hamlet.”
“Dapat kagyat na bigyan ng ayuda ang ating mga kababayan, laluna ang mga mahihirap na komunidad na siyang pinaka-apektado ngayon ng lockdown. Kung walang tulong ang gobyerno, baka hindi COVID-19 ang papatay sa kanila kundi gutom, o ang malala mga pulis na mas naging abusado at marahas ngayon,” Cullamat added.
As of Friday, 803 people in the country already contracted COVID-19. Of this, 54 have died while 31 were able to recover, according to the Department of Health.
The enhanced community quarantine is in effect across Luzon until midnight of April 13, as the entire nation has been placed under a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around the world, COVID-19 has infected more than 532,700 people and killed more than 24,050 as of March 27.
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