Lockdown of Metro Manila is anti-poor migrant groups say

Police officers conduct inspections at the checkpoint near the border of Valenzuela, Bulacan, and Metro Manila, on March 19. Photo: Philippine National Police/ Public Domain

HONG KONG (SE): Migrant rights workers said that the lockdown of Metro Manila showed a lack of concern for the livelihood of the poor. The group called on the Philippine government for a more comprehensive policy to curb the outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

The president, Rodrigo Duterte, announced on March 12 that over 12 million people in the Metro Manila area would be placed under a month-long community quarantine from March 15 to April 14. Government office services were also suspended for a month in order to keep the virus from spreading (Sunday Examiner, March 22).

On March 16, Duterte imposed an enhanced community quarantine covering the entire island of Luzon. While land, air, and sea travel are restricted, overseas Filipinos and foreign nationals could depart from the Philippines from any port of entry in Luzon until March 20. All residents are required to stay at home, with only one member from a family being allowed to go out to buy food and other necessities.

Checkpoints manned by police and military officers were set up to block the entry points to various districts in Metro Manila. Passengers are required to undergo temperature checks.

As of March 25, the total confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country had risen to 552, while 35 people had died, according to the figures disclosed by the health ministry of the country.

Eman Villanueva, spokesperson of the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body, said in a press conference on March 16, that migrant workers were not prepared for the sudden quarantine arrangement as many of them, even from remote provinces, had to rush to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila after the president made the announcement in order to get to their jobs overseas.

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He said the checkpoints and soldiers only served to create panic among the public and that the Philippine government needed to come up with scientific policies to cope with the outbreak.

In a statement on March 12, Migrante International said the home quarantine would just bring misery to millions of poor who are prevented from pursuing their livelihood.

“Severed from their jobs and itinerant trades or from any other source of the little income they have, how will they survive? How will they bring food to the table?” it asked.

The migrant group says that instead of a militarised lockdown, the Philippine government needs to provide a more comprehensive response to effectively control the outbreak.

The group urged the Philippine government to learn from South Korea which managed to steadily decrease new Covid-19 cases without resorting to lockdowns. 

The country employed mass testing, medical technology and effective public communication to reverse the upward trend of the epidemic without causing much chaos among the public.

The group also said that genuine universal health care at this period of public health emergency should include free testing, case monitoring and free treatment for infected persons.

At the same time, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong issued a statement on March 14 saying overseas workers are further burdened by the need to send extra funds home so their families can buy protective materials and daily necessities they need to store up for fear that food will run out and stores may close down during the quarantine.

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It said migrant workers also worry about the medical expenses should family members be diagnosed with the disease. 

PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) covers 14,000 pesos (approximately $2,100) worth of medical expenses during quarantine while those who test positive for Covid-19 are entitled to a 32,000 peso (around $4,900) package. 

However, the benefit is only given to its members, who may still need to pay the rest of the medical charges.

The group also pointed out that people packed bus stations and tried to leave Manila in droves without temperature checks a few days before the quarantine came into effect, risking spread of the disease to other places in the country.

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