The regime of President Rodrigo Duterte is ramping up threats and harassment amid the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines.
Soldiers have arrested protesters for demanding the government do more to help protect communities from the impact of COVID-19.
Left trade union confederation Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) responded to the arrests, telling Rappler magazine: “Fact is, these households already belonged to the poor and near-poor economic brackets even before the COVID-19 outbreak; the administration of President Duterte should have placed these communities on the top of their priorities and should [have] heavily considered their plight when they decided to implement the ECQ [enhanced community quarantine],” the BMP said.
“To arrest hungry and desperate people is a new low for this administration. Not only did they dilly-dally in addressing the crisis in late February, [but] the government treated the health crisis as a peace and order issue and deployed security forces instead of medical practitioners.”
Duterte directly threatened to "shoot dead" left activists on television on April 2, for having "slammed" the government over its response.
"I am addressing the left ... slamming [us] about the distribution," said Duterte. "Remember, you are not the government ... and you cannot be a part of what we are planning to do for the nation."
"Because I will order you detained...
"Do not try to test it.
"We are ready for you.
"I will not hesitate [to order] my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you.
"I will not hesitate."
Activists from the left, including Partido Lakas Ng Masa (PLM) have been delivering direct aid to the poor and vulnerable, including face masks and food.
To support their work, donations can be made to:
Account Name: Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute, Inc.
Acct. No: 304-2-30400456-2 Bank: Metro Bank
Bank address: Metrobank, Aurora Blvd – Anonas Branch, Caly Bldg, Aurora Blvd, cor. F. Castillo St, Project 4, Quezon City, Philippines.
In a Facebook post, activist Jose Pedrosa said: "At least 20 urban poor residents from nearby Bagong Pag-asa were arrested this morning after demanding food.
"Why were they demanding food?
"We are less than an hour away from our 8th food drive.
"We’ve prepared lomi [a type of noodle soup]. Temporary relief but for empty stomachs, it means the world to them.
"As we continue to demand for immediate relief for millions of people in areas under lockdown, let us extend our solidarity to those in need.
"When a person cries for food, why arrest them?
"Give them food or provide them the means to survive for crying out loud!"
Pedrosa said: "Yesterday [April 1] was our 8th food drive. Days before we received more than 400 miki packs in support of the effort. We also received five sacks of rice on top of the two sacks that were previously donated. With the support we are getting, expect more food drives in the coming days.
"We prepared 350 lomi meals for the homeless and urban poor residents in Quezon City. We were hoping to provide the meals to the poor residents of Bagong Pag-asa, following the protest they did yesterday. But after an [eyewitness account] of the community, we realised that the meals we prepared would not be enough. More than a thousand meals perhaps [is needed].
"As we went around the thoroughfares of Quezon City, we encountered new homeless people wandering about. Most of them were taking refuge just by the roadside buildings. One colony of homeless people converted an entire pavement into their space for the night.
"In one area, a homeless woman could no longer stand. Those near her explained that she got sick days before.
"We distributed the food packs along with face masks. The face masks were their first semblance of protection to their bare exposure to the elements.
"Yesterday, 20 urban poor residents were arrested after protesting and calling on the government for food relief and assistance. While hunger may have been the daily reality for most of these communities, limitation to their mobility, being under lockdown and lack of immediate support from the government are amplifying their pre-existing conditions.
"Yesterday was also the anniversary of the Kidapawan Massacre [in 2016]. Remember the farmers who protested and appealed for food from the government? They were hungry. Food was scarce, some of them had to eat field rats to survive. And when that too ran out, they petitioned the government. Instead of addressing the appeal, security forces fired upon the farmers. This was during [former] President Benigno Aquino’s administration."