When a Pandemic Hits, does Freedom Diminish?

Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic
Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic webinarFNF Philippines

When a Pandemic Hits, does Freedom Diminish?

As the countries altogether experience a health crisis on a global level, leaders take different approaches on how to handle the pandemic. After five months of containing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve, some countries are far ahead than others with a decrease in the number of confirmed cases and increase in patients recovering from COVID-19.

The Philippines is lagging behind its neighbors in the ASEAN region with 8,000 confirmed cases by the end of April. Along with this number that manifest an ongoing fight against the virus comes the Filipinos’ other enemy - the curtailment of their freedom.

Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines (FNF), together with the Center for Liberalism and Democracy (CLD) organized the first ever webinar called “Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic” which provides an overview of the situation from the different facets of liberal thought. FNF Country Director Wolfgang Heinze opened the session by saying that “when we look at the crisis that is happening globally, we believe that we need to look at the different issues that affect us all.”

Renowned journalist and Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug emphasized the importance of staying vigilant in terms of how the government is addressing the pandemic. The generals and former military officials are “running the show” in terms of implementation. Numbers of arrests nationwide have risen to more than 100,000 for violations related to quarantine guidelines. In comparison to the numbers tested for COVID-19 which was 33,000 as of the webinar, the arrests are far larger. The time and resources of government workers consumed putting people behind bars clearly show that President Rodrigo Duterte “sees the pandemic from the lens of public order,” according to Vitug.

Empowering the police and military forces, backed by the “continuous use of war language, frames the issue on a peace and order perspective rather than health,” affirms Marc Siapno from the Commission on Human Rights. Merely asking people to obey rests on two assumptions - that the government has the best interest in mind and, they know better than the people. Instead, Mr. Siapno suggests that “the best way to move forward is using the rights based approach” where increase in participation is expected to lead to greater public trust. However, information must be available to them in order to understand the current situation. This information will also allow them to participate in governance. Collective ownership of the problem translates to greater cooperation, leading to more solutions.

Providing information does not guarantee the right course of action. According to Matthew Reysio - Cruz, Reporter from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “we have to keep in mind that it is the failure of everyday systems to equip citizens at the most basic level to deal with information given to them.” With the inability to judge whether something is fact or fiction, the spread of disinformation will continue among the Philippine population.

Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic
Resource persons and organizers FNF Philippines

Economy and access to goods

For Economist JC Punongbayan, “the more we flatten the curve, the deeper the economic downturn that we can expect because people will be staying in their homes.” This will be seen on a global level, to be suffered by both developed and developing economies. All sectors in the Philippine businesses will be affected, hence, it is important for the government to create measures that will assist once operations are normalized through economic rescue packages.

Mr. Punongbayan urges Filipinos to be vigilant about the government’s spending habits as they are spending beyond their means. Transparency must continue to be demanded when the President claims to have billions budgeted for the pandemic.

When people in lockdown are restricted to travel, it is important to make the essential goods accessible to them. As the government announced the suspension of public transportation, it became challenging for people to acquire even the most basic goods. Relief goods and minimal cash assistance are not enough to support the needs of an average Filipino family.

People would have to walk distances to the market with the absence of tricycles - a transport staple in local communities. Medical staff working in the frontline must also fulfill their duty to ensure the health and wellbeing of individuals. Many of them report to hospitals in cities different from where they live. For Ira Cruz of AltMobility, the suspension of public transport also meant “cutting access to basic human needs” in times when they need it the most - during a pandemic.

Health, society, economy, rights are interrelated

Health experts are expected to be at the forefront of beating the virus. But given there are existing difficulties faced by the Philippine health system, how long will it take before the curve flattens? Dr. Joey Hernandez, a Public Health Physician, explains this in relation to the social domain. “Health is linked to social and political realities. Individuals should be empowered to make decisions about their own well-being.” Dr. Hernandez adds that Filipinos are unable to do so because of the faulty system. He wrapped up by saying that “health is a right and health is for all.”

“Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic” was aired in 17 April 2020. CLD Managing Trustee Atty. Karry Sison facilitated the discussions.

Watch the videos of the webinar below:

Ms Marites Vitug on Democracy and Rule of LawFNF Philippines
JC Punongbayan on COVID-19's Impacts on the EconomyFNF Philippines
Marc Siapno on Fear, Freedoms, and the Right to Information During a PandemiaFNF Philippines
Matthew Reysio-Cruz on Disinformation and Freedom of ExpressionFNF Philippines
Dr Joey Hernandez on Philippine Public Health SystemFNF Philippines
Ira Cruz on Suppression of Freedom of MovementFNF Philippines