Protesters carry placards and murals with slogans as they head to a rally on July 27 ahead of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation address in Congress. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has released a pastoral letter accusing the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte of failing to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the second statement to be released this month in which the country’s prelates have been critical of the government.
A July 19 letter condemned a new anti-terrorism law and other “social ills” plaguing society.
The latest criticism was released by Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, chairman of the Church People-Workers Solidarity group, and came just before Duterte was to deliver his State of the Nation address on July 27.
“The Church People-Workers Solidarity is in unity with different sectors in denouncing the current administration’s failure to address the miserable condition of the Filipino people amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the bishops in the pastoral statement.
Bishop Alminaza also said the government’s “oppressive, irresponsible and irrelevant” actions had worsened an already dire crisis.
“The administration implemented community quarantines of varying stringency nationally without proper implementation guidelines and adaptation frameworks. The suspension of mass transportation, in particular, was and still is a heavy burden, especially for essential service and healthcare workers,” the bishops added.
Bishop Alminaza also said that many people battling to contain the pandemic such as health workers walked to and from hospitals for hours despite being overworked and exposed to the virus due to lack of protective equipment.
“The administration still has no concrete and effective plan for mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment of Covid-19 infected persons half a year into this global health emergency. As a result, thousands of people including workers were infected and more are at risk of contracting the disease,” said the bishops.
The bishops also said Duterte’s cash aid program did not reach the majority of people.
“This means that the majority of the Filipino workforce did not receive any financial aid from the government during the quarantine ... In effect, millions of workers and their families were experiencing hunger and poverty,” the bishops said.
The bishops also said the Philippines had the “worst mass unemployment crisis” in its history, saying two million people were out of work due to job retrenchments.
The pastoral letter also said that denying the Philippine’s biggest broadcasting corporation a new franchise added to mass unemployment. “By pushing for the rejection of the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, the government has also effectively threatened or taken away the means to a living of over 11,000 workers from the network and the smaller establishments that relied on its operations.”
The bishops and a local foundation estimated there are around 20.4 million unemployed and underemployed people in the Philippines.
As a final note, the bishops called the Duterte administration to put people first before profit and to provide universal healthcare and Covid-19 testing and treatment for all.
Meanwhile, the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), issued a scathing assessment of Duterte’s administration ahead of his State of the Nation address.
It called on those gathering for what has become traditional marches to mark the address “to make a stand” against “so much pain and suffering” in the country.
“In the past four years, we are disturbed by what we have witnessed,” the AMRSP said in a July 27 statement, addressing an array of social, political and environmental issues
“Is it not fundamentally wrong from any point of view, moral or legal, to take a life without regard for due process and rule of law?, the superiors said, taking a swipe at Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which it said has claimed 27,000 victims.
The statement also criticized Duterte’s suppression of critics and rights defenders though measures such as “red-tagging,” muzzling the press and its “slow response” to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lockdown measures introduced to combat it has seen up to 90,000 people arrested or jailed as a result, the statement said.
It also attacked the introduction of the new anti-terrorism law, saying it “only instills terror and fear” in a country where the “poor whipped with injustice while the powerful swagger with impunity.”