COVID-19 Op-ed

Top-down Violence in the Face of a Pandemic: An Argument for a Social Protection Floor

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Josemaria J. Sebastian
University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus
josemariajose.sebastian@gmail.com

The Philippine Government has now driven the country to disarray. From its initial denial of the gravity of the COVID-19 virus to “loaded” legislation giving the President additional powers in the form of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the Government continues to exacerbate the crisis. Found in the wreckage: health workers overworked, underpaid, and undersupplied, and the poor seeking income and state support. Atop the heap callously stands the government, devoid of any compassion in its policy implementations.

Its shortcomings have hit the most vulnerable persons amidst the pandemic: the elderly, indigent, and frontline health workers. They have suffered most, but many others have too. As the Government increased uniformed personnel presence, news reports of human rights abuses have surfaced. Two weeks ago, police beat a man exiting a mosque for supposedly violating quarantine protocol (Cabico, 2020). Days before, barangay officials detained curfew violators in a dog cage (Famatigan, 2020). People on the fringes of society suffer from a lack of basic necessities whilst those elected to serve continue to enjoy decadent living. This is violence.

Violence is not confined to directly injurious physical acts. Incompetent governance that ultimately raises the death toll is violence. Withholding relief goods from the poor is violence. Ignoring the pleas of the starving is violence. Why does the Government continue to inflict violence on its citizenry, even in a time of crisis? It simply does not care for its people. Indeed, civil society and the private sector already bear much of the burden of providing for the most vulnerable, while the Philippine Government in the past three years spat upon human rights. The citizenry deserves social and economic wellbeing, and it is what the Government is in power for to provide.

The Philippines is signatory to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 of the Declaration provides that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, “including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (The United Nations, 1948, art. 25.1) Has the Government fully provided these entitlements, more so in a time of crisis that strains access to food supply and medical care?

Now, this is where social protection comes in. The Government must, first and foremost, consider “the provision of essential services and transfers for all individuals in need of protection in an effort to prevent them from falling into abject poverty or to assist them out of poverty.” (“Sharing Innovative Experiences, vol. 18 – Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences”, 2011, p.13)   Thus, by guaranteeing a basic standard of living, more low-income individuals can be integrated into the formal economy, and raise their current standard of living (“Sharing Innovative Experiences, vol. 18 – Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences”, 2011). Higher income also means higher tax revenues which can be used to improve existing social protection programs (“Sharing Innovative Experiences, vol. 18 – Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences”, 2011). Different countries in the global South have successfully implemented social protection floor programs at low cost, reducing poverty and income inequality (“Sharing Innovative Experiences, vol. 18 – Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences”, 2011). This requires political will. Adequate housing means no homeless sleeping on sidewalks; cash transfers to those unable to work mean financial security; food subsidies mean no desperate protesters; and access to proper medical care and better healthcare infrastructure means no one dies untreated. When compassion is first integrated in state policies, and each person’s rights are seen inalienable, all stand to benefit.

To close, I do not see this Government even wanting to effect this change. Like I said, it does not care for the downtrodden. To the young, capable, and compassionate leaders surfacing – those deservedly called public-servants – I can only hope the culture of genuine servitude persists. As long as it does, a truly egalitarian society is within reach. Until then, we – student-activists, educators, workers, farmers, and other freedom fighters – shall continue beating our drums and chanting our calls, for silence in the face of oppression is acquiescence, and with resistance comes change.

References

Cabico, G.K. (2020, March 26). HRW: Philippines must enforce quarantine without ‘cruel, inhuman’ treatment. The Philippine Star.
https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/03/26/2003564/hrw-philippines-must-enforce-quarantine-without-cruel-inhuman-treatment. Accessed April 8, 2020.

Famatigan, M.E. (2020, March 21). Barangay captain cages curfew violators in Laguna. Rappler.
https://www.rappler.com/nation/255342-barangay-captain-cages-curfew-violators-sta-cruz-laguna. Accessed April 8, 2020.

(2011, December 10). Sharing Innovative Experiences, Volume 18 – Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences.
https://www.unsouthsouth.org/2011/12/10/sharing-innovative-experiences-vol-18-successful-social-protection-floor-experiences-2011/. Accessed April 4, 2020.

The United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf. Accessed April 4, 2020.


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