Feed Them. Don’t Shoot Them Dead!

By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

“I will not hesitate. My orders are sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead. Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo.” (Rodrigo Roa Duterte, 01.04.2020)

(I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military, also the barangay, that if there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave.)

After two weeks of community lockdown, no work and impeded mobility, hunger is coming to Payatas. The LGU has been trying to distribute food packs but because of a big population not everybody gets the government ration. Some generous people offer a hot meal here and there. But people are getting hungry by the day. Placards are now mounted on the streets: asking for food and demanding accountability.

I was recently asked by a journalist what we need to tell the people so that they heed the government’s call to “stay at home”. “Having worked in Payatas for many years,” he asked me, “what do you tell the people in a language they can understand?”

I mentioned three things.

(1) First, relax. Huwag mag-panic. Matulog ng maaga, eat enough, and stay healthy. Bawal magkasakit.

(2) Second, go out only when needed. Wear masks when outside; keep physical distance from others in markets and public spaces. Huwag muna maging “feeling close”. Without running water, wash your hands just the same after you held things in the market or in your workplaces. If there is extra water, take a bath when you come home before holding your children.

(3) Third, keep the children and elderly people off the streets. Since there is little space inside those warm shanties, at least the old people and children are not very much exposed to possible contamination. Mag-ingat dahil kung darating sa atin ang virus tulad ng sitwasyon sa China at Italy, hindi na natin alam kung anong mangyayari.

HAVING SAID THAT (and for the first three ‘advices’ to be possible), I also ask the government to do its part. To blame the poor for not following government instructions without doing the following is actually “blaming the victim”. We have to make this government accountable.

Here is my unsolicited advice. These are the most basic. With these, I barely scratch the surface.

(1) First, provide them with food supply on those times when they have no work. A bag (with two kilos of rice, two sardines, two packs of noodles and some sachet of coffee for a week) is not enough for a family for the whole week. This is adding insult to injury. Plus, not everyone gets it. If they get it on the first week, how do they survive on the second to the fourth weeks. People get out of their houses because they look for food. We want them to stay at home? Give them food! Don’t “shoot them dead”! Mas mabuti pa nga ang mga ‘palero’ (assistant sa garbage dump truck) ngayon at may trabaho. Pero ang daming mga daily wage earners wala talagang kita – drivers, construction workers, security guards, mall sales ladies, at iba pa. A father or mother cannot bear to see their child cry in hunger. No one can stop people who are hungry.

Connected with the above, LGUs (I mean each barangay and city governments) should have a viable process of distribution of food and supplies, if ever they have solved its logistics. It looks like most LGUs do not have this process. Random and erratic distribution will be a cause of a chaotic and unruly crowd which causes easy spread of the virus. I wonder if there is a reliable list of their constituents. If ever there is such a list, was this only updated last election for political purposes? What about the homeless, disabled, elderly and the informal sectors? Are they identified on the list? If there is no such systematic distribution process, the most vulnerable who live in the inner sections far from the streets will really not get anything. The really hungry gets more hungry.

(2) Second, I propose for a 24-hour clinic service in the local community where people can come, call and consult whenever they experience some symptoms. Online medical consultation as advertised now are good but the really poor people have no access to the internet or would want to see an actual doctor or nurse and be assured that everything is OK.

A secure quarantine facility for each large barangay with a doctor and nurses ready to protect the PUI and PUM is also necessary as they await COVID testing. Now that hospitals are rejecting even COVID-positive patients with mild and moderate symptoms, where will they go? Not to their cramped houses! That is the end of us all. Thus, the need of a safe quarantine area among the informal sectors.

Connected with the above is the availability of basic medicine in the local community (maintenance meds). With no public transport, long pharmacy lines and no salary, a significant group of the population are dying not of COVID but of other diseases.

(3) Third, I suggest that the LGUs provide an accredited transport service for the working population – also called the frontliners (nurses, doctors, med tech, etc.). Even if they pay, they would not mind as long as it is on time and safe. But in Payatas, “frontliners” refer mainly to security guards, grocery store sales ladies, drivers and baggers, janitors, garbage workers, etc. LGUs now think of providing lodging to the first frontliners but not to these other important people that make our locked down society work.

I can only think of three for now. Readers, you can add more as you see fit.

In the end, if we look at it, the first set (advice to the informal settlers like hand-washing, social distancing, staying at home, etc.) can only be possible when the second set (government obligation) are met. Without responding to the second, the government can never fully implement the first.

Regardless of how many military checkpoints we erect in these places, people will still go out to fight for their own survival. Sabi ng isang Tatay, mamatay na lang ako sa virus para isahan lang. Kaysa makita kung namamatay ang anak ko at tumitirik ang mata niya sa gutom.

I once thought that Filipinos in this difficult situation can only choose to die between these two unnecessary evils – either virus or hunger. Until we heard this famous President say: “shoot them dead”!

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Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University