Defiance in time of crisis

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Amid community quarantine measures implemented by the city government of Cagayan de Oro, it’s still business-as-usual for several residents going about their usual ways in this northern Mindanao city.

Although availability of basic transportation had significantly reduced, several areas in the city are still packed with people. Cogon market is thriving and fruit stands continue to open. And while most major thoroughfares are close to empty, groups of people continue to walk the streets within city bounds. A passenger jeepney is seen packed with people notwithstanding orders on social distancing.

The city government ordered closure of malls, bars, and several non-essential businesses on 17 March and curfew set at 10 o’clock each night. However, people are still seen walking around beyond such time.

Norhata Jamal, a vendor roaming outside the old Gaisano mall, said they need to earn a living.

“Dapat ang gobyerno magbigay ng pagkain kasi kung hindi kami magbebenta dito, wala kaming kakainin,” said Jamal. (The government should provide food because if we stop selling here, we won’t be able to eat anything).

On the other hand, Janggo, a ‘barker’ for a jeepney said he cannot stay home and starve his mother.

In Cebu, social media posts indicate that several communities do not follow community quarantine requirements. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte endlessly reminds citizens to stay home or pay a painful price.

In some cities abroad, in the United States, in particular, defiance on closures and lockdown orders have been reported to be widespread. Most young people seem to not believe nor care about contracting the dreadful coronavirus disease. What these defiant populations are not realizing is the actual ill-effects that COVID-19 could cause them and their families. In many instances, the disease proved to be fatal.

In Italy, fatalities have continued to increase by the day and medical facilities are no longer enough and medical personnel are either exhausted or close to giving up. Scenes of patients packed in lobbies and emergency rooms of Italian hospitals have started to emerge on the Internet. Foreign countries have extended manpower and facility support hoping to change the course.

Earlier this week, major hospitals in Metro Manila have started turning away new patients due to limited personnel and capacity as people showing symptoms continue to grow each day. As of 25 March, there are 552 Filipinos confirmed positive with the virus and 35 are dead including doctors who had direct contact with patients. In Cagayan de Oro’s Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) alone, confirmed cases and deaths are increasing as reported by the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, government still struggles to address the need for more test kits and test facilities. While people are starting to become anxious about a massive local transmission and with politicians and celebrities announcing in social media that they are asymptomatic carriers, a growing concern among Filipino communities is evident. Senator Koko Pimentel is on the hot seat for allegedly violating quarantine protocols being a COVID-19 patient himself.

President Rodrigo Duterte appeared on national TV late evening on 24 March urging Filipinos to trust in what government is doing. He assured the public of continued support in this time of crisis and that they should not be afraid.

It was a critical and timely gesture of the chief executive to assure a panicking public. While it is important for the general population to be well-informed and supported by its leaders, specific on-the-ground actions are still wanting. With all the closures of highways, towns, cities, and businesses, the national government must provide tangible plans of action for every citizen.

At the current state, the national government, pronouncing that “no one shall be left behind,” has left to local governments the execution of their own plans. More often than not, many local chief executives, not having been on any infectious disease emergency in the past, are struggling on how to urgently address the kind of crisis they are all confronted with.

Many of them declared lockdowns and extremely enhanced quarantine measures, but no specific plans on food security and availability are in place. Kudos to those who have put in place comprehensive and strong plans for their constituents but in many instances, obscurity constantly develops in the execution of local directives.

One town issued a quarantine pass system restricting residents’ physical movements and posted the process on social media– many others followed suit sans local planning and consultation.

In the meantime, laborers and ordinary citizens like Jamal and Janggo who literally find money and food on the streets, are not ready to stay home, do nothing and starve their families.

While we have yet to agree on actual implementation plans, let us mitigate the pains of our people. Now.

Rather than focus on providing sanctions and punishment, local governments must be able to quickly identify and provide what is urgently needed. Only then they can have such authority against defiance in this time of crisis. 

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