Coronavirus News Asia

The wrong way to do a lockdown in the Philippines

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MANILA – Faced with 3,870 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 182 deaths and an upward-pointing trend-line, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is doubling down on his “enhanced community quarantine” policy by extending an already month-long lockdown until the end of April.

Whether his government can hold that line long enough to tamp down the Covid-19 curve is an open question as desperate and sometimes hungry Metro-Manila residents break the government’s military-enforced containment measures to seek out sustenance.

The extension was announced on April 7, soon after Duterte was given extraordinary powers late last month by Congress to strictly enforce social distancing and home quarantines, and disburse a multi-billion-dollar aid package for the hardest hit communities and businesses.

The decision has won broad support, including from independent and opposition legislators, due to growing concerns the lockdown so far has met with only mixed results.

There are simultaneous concerns, however, that some officials have seemed to overreach in threatening lockdown violators, with unverified images going viral on social media of detainees held in literal dog cages. In an hour long televised address on April 6, a visibly exhausted Duterte appealed for public patience.

“At the start I told you be careful, that this [Covid-19 epidemic] will hit us hard. It might not really cripple the country but it will of course cause sadness and fear…how are we going to overcome this?,” the Filipino leader said in an often incongruent mix of Filipino and Tagalog languages.

This is “rampaging our country and every country for that matter. Even the government is desperate now. I am desperate now,” Duterte added, in a flip-flop shift from his dismissive tone weeks earlier when he discounted the risk of the now global pandemic.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a press conference at Malacanang Palace, Manila, November 19, 2019. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

Through the second week of March, the Filipino president actively downplayed the epidemic threat, often defying the “no-touch policy” set by his own Presidential Security Group to protect the septugenarian president amid indications the disease is particularly lethal to the elderly with underlying health issues. 

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