Government red-tagging of CSOs, an attempt to silence dissent and deflect incompetence in COVID-19 response

April 10, 2020

The Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC) condemns the recent statement of Southern Luzon Command chief, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., touting the organization along with other civil society organizations (CSOs) as “unwittingly exploited by the CPP.”

This red-tagging is a pathetic move of the government to divert public attention from its incompetence in addressing the current health crisis and silence dissent. Instead of devising a coherent plan that matches the emergency powers it demanded, it speaks ill of organizations that are mobilizing resources such as food, relief goods, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to uplift poor sectors and support front liners.

CEC is a registered environmental organization, working in the Philippines for 30 years to help communities address environmental challenges. It has collaborated with both national and international institutions in humanitarian and developmental efforts, compliant with the standards and reportorial requirements of both its donors and the government. These engagements have owed it to the neglect, inefficiency, and corruption in the government’s disaster risk management.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown once again the same ineptitude of the government. Many people are growing hungry and have no access to essential social services. Citizens who were demanding their right to economic support were violently dispersed and arrested, such as the 21 residents of San Roque, Quezon City last April 1.

Meanwhile, those who criticize the government’s militaristic approach and insufficient response are being stifled. Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda admitted sending out a memorandum order that dissuades its employees from commenting negatively on the government.

The government has also failed to ensure safe working conditions for front liners. The Department of Health has confirmed that 152 doctors and 63 nurses have already tested positive for COVID-19. The lack of PPE and medical supplies is apparent, being one of the reasons some health workers are discouraged from reporting to work. For one, the National Center for Mental Health only obtained 586 pieces of PPEs, all out of donations.

Up to this point, the Duterte administration has not released a complete breakdown of the 275 billion-peso budget allotted for COVID-19 response. It remains questionable as to whether the funds are rightfully spent, considering the still existing inadequacy of PPEs and assistance to workers, urban poor sectors, and low-income families.

Instead of threatening, victim-blaming, vilifying, and red-tagging CSOs and communities, the government should focus on ensuring the security and welfare of frontline workers as well as the citizenry. The organizations have echoed the need for mass testing, contact-tracing, isolation for health care of victims, and providing free access to economic and medical necessities to mitigate the COVID-19 spread. However, many are still disenfranchised, one month after the population has been placed on “enhanced community quarantine.”

In this time of crisis, we need the solidarity of concerned organizations in extending assistance to the most vulnerable and the marginalized. More than this, the clamor and demands of the suffering population must be heeded by the government that has the full responsibility to resolve this health issue.