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Duterte reassures poor amid virus emergency

Philippine president pledges US$4 billion to help needy, praises sacrifices made by medics battling coronavirus

Duterte reassures poor amid virus emergency

Policemen hold up placards reminding people to stay at home amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in Manila on March 31. (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has praised the commitment shown by health workers and reassured Filipinos of his government’s determination to help them and defeat Covid-19.

In a televised address to the nation on March 30, Duterte pledged to look after low-income households and those relying on a daily wage through a 200 billion peso (US$4 billion) fund made available by Congress.

He said it would be the widest and largest social protection program in the history of the Philippines.

The president also paid tribute to health workers and the sacrifices they were making for the nation’s people.

“There are doctors, nurses, attendants who have died [due to Covid-19]. They offered their lives to help their countrymen. They are so fortunate, they died for the motherland,” Duterte said.

“That should be the reason if we die. Let us not die for other reasons … It would be an honor to die for your country.” 

However, urban poor communities immediately demanded transparency in how the fund is spent.

“We need to feel that we are really being taken care of by the government with that amount of money,” said Federico Ancieto, a jeepney driver.

“I hope politicians will not simply put the money in their pockets. Yes, there is money. But the question is how much of it will they really give to the poor. How much will they keep for themselves?” asked Harlet Dumagtoy, a janitor.

Duterte also promised to arrest and detain officials caught mismanaging resources intended for people struggling to survive amid the pandemic.

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“I am not a cruel man but if I receive a report [of corruption] from the police, I will order your detention until this Covid-19 pandemic is over,” he said.

Meanwhile, nearly 600 doctors and nurses have answered a government appeal and volunteered their support in the fight against Covid-19 at three designated hospitals in Metro Manila, home to 13 million Filipinos.

This was welcomed by Manila Archdiocese, which offered the use of its facilities and vehicles in taking health workers to and from hospitals.

Manila’s apostolic administrator, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, asked parishes in the archdiocese to provide service vehicles for health workers and accommodation if they need it.

Several churches have also opened their doors as quarantine centers for those who cannot afford to go to hospitals.

“There are now more parishes and religious houses offering their facilities to healthcare workers and for the poor,” said the prelate.

As of March 30, the Philippines had recorded 1,546 Covid-19 cases with 78 deaths, according to government figures.

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