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By way of commemorating 47 years of arduous front-building of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the NDF-Ilocos reiterates its condemnation of the Duterte regime’s criminal mishandling of a pandemic that affects the lives and livelihoods of the poorest among the poor instead of guaranteeing their medical and overall wellbeing.

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has exposed the rottenness of the current social system wherein the government favors the richest members of society while the rest of the nation is left to fend off for themselves. The medical crisis quickly escalated into a catastrophe for the entire semi-feudal and semi-colonial system. It has become even more obvious that neoliberal policies have kept the majority of Filipino families merely one meal away from perishing and thus most vulnerable in this crisis. Meanwhile, healthcare is a profitable venture for big businesses but an inaccessible dream for most people. At the time of a pandemic such as this, class differences are amplified and are proving to be fatal.

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As with the rest of the country, the enforced lockdown in the Ilocos region causes an overwhelming majority of the people to contend with poverty and government neglect even more sharply. The price of tobacco went down much further than the already low prices set in the Tripartite Conference last year. From the supposedly Php82 per kilo of Grade A Virginia leaf, it went down to Php70. Corn prices are as low as Php11 a kilo. Fisher folk, like those in La Union, are effectively prohibited from selling their catch outside their own municipalities. They were even previously limited to selling in their own barangay and were thus forced to cover areas discreetly on foot.

Government efforts to provide them support are glaringly insufficient. In critical times such as this, it is incomprehensible how selective approach in distributing much-needed aid will work over blanket dispersal of adequate support. In Ilocos Norte, for example, households receive a meager one to three kilograms of rice. Social amelioration programs, instead of being inclusive, lists about only half of total number of households. Even the list for indigenous communities found in the municipality of Marcos is sorely lacking and discriminating.

National and local government units (LGUs) are also continuously at odds on how to manage the pandemic. In Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, police officers emboldened by the regime’s militarist approach, barred LGU vehicles coming from Manila and Baguio City. The vehicles are to transport previously stranded residents, as initiated by the LGU. The resultant resignation of Gov. Ryan Singson as Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force is indicative of the broadening gap between the national government and its local units. National IATF’s pronouncement that LGUs should lead the fight against Covid-19 rings hollow when it has actually just abandons the latter to this task and has refused to heed calls for better management of the pandemic.

In the medical front, medical personnel tirelessly save lives at the risk of contracting the virus themselves due to lack of protective gear and equipment. Yet, Rodrigo Duterte even has the gall to dismiss their role while profusely thanking imperialist China for supposed assistance. He was forced to pay mere lip service to the heroic hospital workers only after widespread public criticism. Meanwhile, health workers continue to expose unfair practices such as the measly Php500 allowance for volunteers and forcing volunteer nurses to waive any claim to the Department of Health’s accountability in case of infection. Government prohibited medical workers with contracts abroad from leaving the country but the DOH would not offer them formal contracts with adequate compensation.

Instead of correcting their mistakes, it resorts to blaming the people for the spread of Covid-19. Much similar to misleadingly alluding poverty to ‘laziness,’ these privileged elite that comfortably occupy government stations now cite ‘obstinacy’ of the masses as to why the government finds it difficult to control the virus. Such unreasonable line of thinking alternates with threats to use violence against individuals or groups who would disobey Duterte’s orders. As expected, Duterte brandishes the Martial Law card even if only invasion or insurrection are the legal grounds for it. Moreover, calls for something as basic as mass testing remain unanswered. In Ilocos region, it is absurd that the selection of a cargo plane to transport testing kits is the cause for delay in the establishment of testing centers.

Meanwhile, his lackeys express hope that imperialist China might share their vaccine with the Philippines on account of so-called friendship. The national government also fields the ludicrous idea of borrowing even more money from imperialist banks and countries when there already is Php275 billion at Duterte’s disposal due to the Bayanihan Act, not to mention the other pre-pandemic ‘special funds’ of the President.

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Almost four months into the pandemic and the Duterte regime’s measures continue to be as half-baked as they are beggarly, anti-poor and militarist. Yet, despite the prevalent crisis, it still finds the time and energy for its counterrevolutionary programs through rabid lapdogs in the police force and the military.

In the Ilocos region, as late as mid-March, fascist elements force mass leaders of legitimate democratic organizations to ‘surrender’ and sign a ‘pledge of allegiance’ after harassing and victimizing them with the vilest black propaganda. Trolls and Duterte apologists even spread fake news that people’s leaders have contracted the virus. Also, combat operations and civil-military encampments continue to distress the peasant population especially those suspected of being guerrilla bases.

In the face of shameless fascism, against revolutionary forces and against the general population, the Filipino people refuses to be cowered. They recognize that a new normal has indeed become necessary and this is because the previous normalcy meant that a few elite families lord it over the poor majority—in economic, political and socio-cultural spheres. The result of such rotten system is evident in the ill-equipped present regime and its refusal to recognize its own bias and unpreparedness. A new normal would mean normalizing dissent when and where it is warranted. And a system that brazenly abandons its responsibility towards the people while saving its own kind is definitely fertile with dissent and revolutionary action.

Establishing support and assistance efforts among mass organizations, while taking necessary precautions, is an effective way to expose the Duterte administration’s own incompetence while highlighting revolutionary self-reliance and collectivization. The people has to assert for a medical solution to the pandemic and the urgent and adequate relief assistance for all households.

The NDF-Ilocos enjoins all its member organizations to utilize the current crisis to draw the sharpest class lines and organize accordingly. From the basic alliance of peasants and proletariats to a united front involving broader ranks, it is becoming clearer and clearer to the vast masses who the real enemy of the Filipino people is and that his anti-poor stance causes the death of far more Filipinos more than any virus. Pandemic or not, there will be a time when the Filipino people will collect and serve justice. ###

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