President Rodrigo Duterte controversially extended the soldier-enforced quarantine in order to protect his people against the next wave.
The Philippine leader has extended one of the world’s longest and strictest Covid-19 lockdowns until June, a controversial move that is out-of-step with regional easing trends and promises to intensify the nation’s economic and human suffering.
-Now set to run for 11 weeks, or 80 days, the soldier-enforced “collective quarantine” of the capital Metro Manila and other large cities will be longer than the 76-day lockdown of Wuhan, China, the origin of the global pandemic.
Emergency rule has also taken a toll on the nation’s standing as democracy, raising questions if curbs on civil liberties will ever be restored.
Duterte’s extended lock down has coincided with a concerted clamp down on independent media and critical voices, including its perfunctory shutdown on flimsy legal grounds of the ABS-CBN News network, the Philippines’ largest broadcaster.
Around two-thirds of the country’s 11,876 cases and three quarters of its 790 deaths have been concentrated in the urbanized Metro Manila area, according to official statistics.
But while cases are still rising, the confirmed numbers are far lower than in European nations that are now starting to emerge from their virus lock downs as well as neighbors such as Singapore.
In mid-May, as the lock down extended into a second month, Duterte’s administration admitted that it failed to reach even its fairly modest target of 8,000 tests per day.
So far, the Philippines has tested just over 188,000 people in a country of 100 million. The lock down had a big impact on Covid-19 cases but it also impacted the economy.
The implementation of the broadly defined new regulations has been largely selective, targeting primarily critics of the government.
Since April, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime division has issued a flurry of subpoenas and arrest warrants against netizens.
The netizen was charged with incitement to sedition, which carries a heavy penalty if found guilty. Another man, from the central Philippines city of Aklan, was arrested for a similar post, offering twice the previous amount for the president’s assassination.
More recently, it arrested teacher Ronnel Mas from the northern city of Dagupan for a social media post offering a bounty of US$1 million for anyone who is willing “to kill Duterte”, a satirical commentary on the president’s offer of a similar amount as prize money for a Covid-19 vaccine discovery.
But it seems unlikely to most observers that the police chief charged with cracking down on Duterte’s critics will be subject to the same sort of punitive treatment, particularly as the pressure builds around the nation’s extended lock down.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point Asia News 2020.