"Why does the public only hear threats from the Philippine government instead of receiving real information about Covid-19," asks journalist Marites Vitag of Rappler.

Experiencing one of the world’s longest lockdowns, the Philippines see weak governmental responses in fighting the virus. On another front, Filipinos battle restrictions on freedom as authorities clamp down on free expression and other rights. FNF Philippines has been working with partners from various industries and institutions in strengthening freedom, rights and expanding the democratic space.

In the first ever webinar organized by FNF Philippines, called “Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic,” experts provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation from different angles and how they affect the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Journalist Marites Vitug emphasized the importance of staying vigilant as the government treats quarantine violators as criminals and prosecutes netizens critical of the administration. President Rodrigo Duterte “sees the pandemic from the lens of public order” rather than as a public-health issue.

Rights-based approach part of the solution

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,” affirmed Marc Siapno from the Commission on Human Rights. For Siapno, “the best way to move forward is through the rights-based approach” where increased communication and public consultation are expected to lead to greater trust and cooperation.

However, simply providing information does not guarantee the right course of action. The inability to judge whether something is fact or fiction leads to the spread of disinformation, according to reporter Matthew Reysio-Cruz.

Freedom of movement and access to basic goods

When people’s ability to travel is restricted under lockdown, it is important to make 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.

For AltMobility’s Ira Cruz, the suspension of public transport during the pandemic also meant “cutting access to basic human needs” when they needed it the most.

Dr. Joey Hernandez, a public health physician, cited the lack of health facilities, testing centres, and uneven distribution of doctors and nurses as among the ills of the health system. These should be fixed as the increase in COVID cases is linked to these realities. After all, “health is a right and health is for all.”

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