Quarantines seek to contain the virus under controllable conditions. It requires medical and sanitation facilities in order to properly handle the infection. The point is to prevent the spread of the virus. Social distancing, on the other hand, is a preventive crowd control practice in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. By reducing the virus’ infectivity, social distancing is encouraged as our collective contribution in the war against COVID-19, containing the virus. Without a host to replicate itself into, COVID-19 will not survive, and hence, it is possible to eradicate the virus with proper hygiene and sanitary practice.
However, when certain elements in our society utilize these practices and turn them against the people, our winning war against the virus becomes sabotaged. In Duterte’s emergency press conference last March 12, the Filipino people have witnessed how “social distancing” and “quarantine” suddenly became tools for the state’s repressive social control. Duterte’s administration placed the Metro under a state of lockdown by deploying approximately 40,000 police and military forces, implementing a 5:00 to 8:00 curfew and restricting exit and entry within the Metro’s borders.
Simple as that, the state has shifted the narrative, portraying people’s gatherings and social interactions as the antagonist and enemy figure. The virus has exited the spotlight. What the Duterte administration has done was a state-enforced social distancing. But this is not the kind of measures that what we expect from the government. What we need from the government is to implement immediate medical protocols, ensure free and accessible COVID health kits, increase funding for the health sector, regulate prices and the like. Instead what we got from the government are security protocols that are basically state-controlled social distancing. By enforcing social distancing, the government places the burden of the fight against COVID solely unto the people and the health sector.
The shifted narrative of the Duterte regime no longer targets COVID-19 but the Filipino people. It is as though the spread of the virus is primarily caused by people’s social gatherings, meetings, and mere interaction with each other when it is not necessarily the case. Whereas poverty, underfunded medical staff and facilities, and poor sanitary protocols are the main causes of virus spreading uncontrollably. The state feeds the idea that social interaction breeds the coronavirus, propagating mass paranoia. By restricting the people’s mobility, militaristic actions instill fear unto the people that we tend to isolate ourselves and avoid contact with other people. Our notion of social distance has become transformed into social anxiety – we avoid everyone, whether they are infected or not, because they are potential carriers of the virus. Thereby resulting into severe individualism, selfishness, and isolation.
To put it simply, this is the regime’s war against the Filipino people masked under the guise of a war against a virus outbreak. This is not the first time that the Duterte regime has responded to issues using extreme military actions. From the overextended Martial Law in Mindanao using the Marawi siege as an excuse, to the Memorandum Order No. 32 in the regions of Negros, Eastern Visayas, and Bicol allegedly due to lawless violence, to the recent declaration of the entire CALABARZON region under a state of calamity and deployment of an AFP battalion after the Taal Volcano eruption has subsided. This pattern, moving from south to north, is seemingly the regime’s grand scheme of railroading a nationwide militaristic rule. COVID-19 is the perfect excuse. Mass isolation and paranoia is the perfect distraction.
The foolishness of the Metro Manila lockdown is obvious to the Filipino masses. If the Duterte regime truly wishes to kill the virus, then they are carrying the wrong weapons and aiming them at the wrong enemy. To fight COVID-19, we ought to put the M-16s down and arm ourselves with thermal scanners, COVID test kits, and proper medical facilities. While social distancing is our contribution to the fight, lest should we forget that it only mitigates and slows down the infection, but we should not make the illusion that we can kill the novel coronavirus with mere social distancing and selfish individualistic ideals.
What we need is social distancing coupled with social solidarity – COVID-19 is our enemy. We need advancements in the scientific and medical community, not military, fake news, and intelligence reinforcements. We need community engagement and not a bogus “community quarantine;” educate the people on virus containment instead of paranoia-mongering. Teach the people how to practice proper hygiene and sanitation instead of expecting them to blindly follow police orders. We, the Filipino people, are now fighting a war on two fronts: a war against COVID-19, and a war against the Duterte regime’s iron hand.