The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has resorted to the use of lethal force to keep his country of 100 million people in lockdown. It is not a intriguing that Rodrigo Duterte who has condoned the killing of thousands of people in his war on drugs. He appears to have adopted the same policy for his country’s fight against Covid-19.
Anyone caught violating quarantine – outside when they shouldn’t be or in a community which isn’t their own – could face being shot by the police or the soldiers who are now patrolling the streets.
On April 21, Winston Ragos became a victim of the extreme regulations. He was visiting his relatives and when he left he came out on to a street next to a quarantine checkpoint. For reasons that remain unclear, soldiers at the checkpoint thought he was armed.
The Philippines lockdown is one of the strictest wolrdwide. The 33-year-old was an ex-army officer himself and suffered from PTSD. At gunpoint he became flustered and the soldiers opened fire. He was killed by two gunshots.
Officers have also been ordered to arrest and jail anyone they deem to be breaching the lockdown rules. So far, an estimated 30,000 people have been arrested. Among them was a team of volunteers from the campaign group Gabriela.
They had a permit to distribute food parcels, but a group of police officers still took issue with what they were doing and they were handcuffed and detained overnight. They were released pending further investigation and have a hearing set for later this month.
Dimples Paz who was one of volunteers arrested, fears next time the consequences could be worse. Human rights organisations have condemned such abuse of power in the throes of pandemic.
Many of those arrested are being put into already overcrowded jails where the virus is spreading unchecked and claiming dozens of lives – deaths which are going unreported. In the slums of Manila the housing it too cramped and people are too poor for street life to stop.
Thankfully, the virus hasn’t taken hold in these communities; families living there already live in fear of being shot in the president’s war on drugs, and now for breaching the lockdown.
The restrictions have made it hard to get food and many families are now relying on rations. Starvation is a threat – but getting the virus is viewed as a death sentence. The Philippines General Hospital were the first to receive coronavirus cases. The Covid-19 ward is still full, but no longer overwhelmed. A high death rate due to initial equipment and staff shortages has been hard to deal with.
The hospital has lost several staff to the virus and nurse Ty admits to being afraid.
“Some people celebrate us for being heroes but at the back of our minds we are afraid for ourselves and our families because we are fighting a war against something that’s not visible and there’s no definite cure, it’s an uncertain feeling because you want to help, you feel heroic, but at the same time you’re scared,” nurse Ty told ITV News.
The Philippines is a densely populated and developing nation where there are millions not only vulnerable to the virus, but facing an extreme, and at times, lethal lockdown.