Women candidates for Congress push for community-based approach to COVID

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 December) – Two women candidates vying for a seat in Congress are pushing for a more community-based approach to the pandemic and the gradual decrease of a militarized response to an epidemiological issue.

Peace and development worker Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana and anesthesiologist  Jean Lindo are running for a seat at the House of Representatives, Maglana as an independent candidate for the city’s first district, a post held by reelectionist Rep. Paolo Duterte, President Rodrigo Duterte’s eldest son, and Dr. Lindo as a second nominee of the Gabriela party-list.

The two shared their legislative agenda on COVID-19 during an online forum “Freedom from COVID-19: Looking Back, Moving Forward”  organized and livestreamed  by the Davao for Leni group on Saturday afternoon

According to Maglana, within the first few weeks of the pandemic, there were already suggestions that came out of academic institutes such as the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance at the Dela Salle University and the Joint Ateneo Institute for Mindanao Economics at Ateneo de Davao University, on handling the pandemic.

The policies pushed for COVID-19 strategies in local governments as well as the assessment of vulnerability in sectors in terms of cushioning effects in the community, among others.

“Paano kaya kung mag shift ang pamahalaan to more civilian-led responses (What if the government shifted to a more civilian-led response)?” Maglana asked.

She said it was important to rethink the security-centric approach early into the pandemic, since the issue is epidemiological in nature.

Police officers check on passengers of vehicles at a checkpoint in Opol, Misamis Oriental on Wednesday (2 June 2021) as neighboring Cagayan de Oro City was placed on Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) after a spike of COVID-19 cases threatened its hospital system. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Maglana and Lindo were reacting to a presentation by Honolulu-based Dr. Ava Patricia Avila,  Assistant Project Director at SMS Research & Marketing Services, Inc., and a Dabawenya herself,  on challenges faced by civil-military relations in the Philippines during a peacetime public health emergency.

Avila noted that of 25 interagency task force members against COVID-19, nine are retired military officers while only two are medical practitioners and 92% are male while only 8% are female.

When the pandemic struck, Avila said, President Rodrigo Duterte immediately mobilized the military to help implement lockdown measures.

“While the use of the military is almost certainly warranted in the immediate emergency period, the appropriateness of retired military officials overseeing public health response calls into question the overall civil-military balance,” she said.

But evven as the Philippines employed a security-based approach, the number of COVID-19 cases remained high, she added. COVID-19 cases has decreased in the past few weeks as more people get vaccinated against the disease.

Lindo said they are pushing for a comprehensive and science-based policy approach where the community is at the center of all decisions.

“There is no question on technology,” Lindo said of the government’s response on contact tracing, among others. However, she stressed,   government policy should have been proactive instead of reactive from the beginning.

The next government should institute a surveillance system through free mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, and isolation etc. using scientific, reliable, and accountable health information systems, she said.

She explained that government should ensure vaccine and health equity instead of discriminatory punitive measures through transparent procurement and advocating for the removal of intellectual property barriers on the international level through Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights  waivers for better access to vaccines.

“We should increase our budget for health and COVID response,” she said, suggesting that government should allot around 10% of the country’s gross domestic product for health.

Lindo also noted that a pro-active response to the pandemic would have beent o immediately tap the agriculture sector so that farmers would be the source of food for those who were quarantined early on.

She also said  government must push for a house-to-house education campaign so that residents can be assured of the facts behind the dreaded virus.

Since March last year, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) issued a series of quarantine guidelines until it  settled on the current simplified Alert Level Systems.  (Yas D. Ocampo / MindaNews)