MANILA, Philippines — The 150 elite police troopers equipped with drones and armored vehicles, along with the 100-member augmentation force also sent to Cebu City are part of the administration's "medical solution" to address the coronavirus threat, the government's quarantine enforcement task force said.
In his fourth statement in two weeks, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar defended the deployment of the Special Action Force to Metro Cebu, saying "the death toll and the number of infected people would have been higher than the current figures had it not (sic) for the quarantine measures that were implemented across the country as early as March 15."
On Monday—just the third day after more police were deployed—the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, of which Eleazar sits as commander, asserted that it was seeing "significant improvement" in the residents' "compliance" of quarantine rules in the city.
“Even the medical community recognizes the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is it, we have been deploying policemen and soldiers to man checkpoint and to enforce quarantine rules in the communities because we are on the side of preventing the transmission of the virus,” said Eleazar.
“All government agencies are working together to address the COVID-19 pandemic. On the law enforcement side, we assure the public that the JTF COVID Shield is working 24/7 to prevent the transmission of the virus and eventually save as many Filipinos from the infection,” he added.
The 'pasaway' narrative
At his public address on Tuesday night, even President Rodrigo Duterte hurled an expletive at the people of Cebu for what he said was their role in causing the new surge in coronavirus cases. "You're all so stubborn. You never follow directions. That's the truth, I'll be frank with you. You are angry with me. I am angry at you…Do not F with me," the chief executive was quoted as saying.
Blaming the public for shortcomings involving the pandemic has long been a pattern of behavior among government officials, from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
Eleazar himself previously accused Filipinos of going out for leisure, an assertion counter to an SWS survey that found that Filipinos take the pandemic seriosuly and follow health protocols and data from Google that showed msot Filipinos stayed home during the qaurantine.
"The continuous rise of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City is attributed to the complacency of local residents for their failure to observe the basic minimum health safety protocols such as wearing of face masks, observance of the proper physical distancing, avoiding unnecessary travels and staying at home as much as possible," the task force's statement reads.
Are Filipinos "pasaway" and violate quarantine rules as officials have claimed? Data show we aren't. Mobility data from Google and Apple showed Filipinos staying at home during lockdown. The chart below uses Google Mobility data. pic.twitter.com/SOF92D0hn9
— Philstar Business (@philstarbiznews) June 25, 2020
Mobility data and Social Weather Stations surveys published over the quarantine period demonstrate that this claim is, for the most part, unsubstantiated, showing that Filipinos generally stay at home and take the global pandemic seriously, only going out in times of absolute necessity and the like.
According to SWS, 87% of Filipinos are generally more afraid of getting and transmitting COVID-19 compared to any other pathogen in the past, while 77% of them make use face masks when going out of their houses. Four out of five Filipinos indeed left their houses at the time the survey was conducted—for food.
This, while experts and academics from both the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas have said that the rise in cases is not inevitable and "can be offset with a rigorous tracking, testing, and tracing program and that "mass randomized testing and contact tracing will help determine the actual number of cases, including asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases, and will help control the spread of COVID-19."
Palace spokesman Harry Roque has since congratulated the Philippines for "beating" the University of the Philippines' prediction.
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The Freeman reports that the city's hospitals are nearing full capacity due to the rise of COVID-19 cases and health care workers are getting affected.
Medical personnel from the military were also sent to Cebu City.
Rights advocates say that the narrative of a "war" against the virus is an intentional move, saying this encourages dependence on the military and highlights their role in maintaining peace and order.
LOOK: The Joint Task Force COVID Shield deploys drone patrol units to "monitor compliance" with Cebu City's enhanced community quarantine. @PhilstarNews
????: JTF CV Shield pic.twitter.com/r0k6QEMlIF
— Franco Luna (@FrancoOvrboard) June 28, 2020
Yet, the likes of Sen. Koko Pimentel and Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, Metro Manila police chief, face separate raps readied against them for breaching quarantine rules themselves. The latter has urged the public to move on from the incident after issuing an apology that also denied his breach ever happened.
Neither of them was called 'pasaway' by the government, with the chief executive even clearing Sinas, saying Metro Manila's top cop should not be blamed that his people wanted to celebrate his birthday.
'Commandos are people too'
In an earlier Facebook Live session, then-special adviser Dr. Tony Leachon, said: "Aside from being staying on top of the situation–and we’re not putting the blame on the subordinates–it’s the also the job of the leader to monitor and follow through on the plan of action. If the plan fails, and there has to be a timeline, it has to be corrected immediately because ramifications will be big if there is an increase in viral transmission. As people move as restrictions are eased, the virus also moves."
Data from the health department showed that the government was conducting less than 10,000 tests per day at the time.
But for Eleazar, the flood of uniformed and armed personnel in the city deserve respect.
"What we have problem of are those hardheaded people who disregard these quarantine rules despite knowing the risk of infection to them, their family, and their community. This is the reason why the deployment of SAF and soldiers is necessary, for these hardheaded people to be forced to comply with the mere presence of uniformed personnel and their mobility assets,” Eleazar said in a separate statement issued earlier this week.
“Your SAF and soldiers may be the toughest but they are also human beings who have the compassion to those who deserve it. They are known to strictly follow orders and among their orders is to exercise maximum tolerance. In return, we ask the people of Cebu City to reciprocate this good gesture by observing the quarantine rules and respecting the people who enforce these rules,” he added.
The Philippines is still under the longest community quarantine in the world. — with reports from The Freeman
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