COVID-19 in The Philippines: The Case Against A Dangerously Inadequate Response

by Lauryn Lin
Contributing Writer

Police and armed soldiers now walk the streets of Manila as they try to keep people inside their homes. “Shoot them dead,” ordered Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a national address after a protest in Quezon City. The protest occurred at the beginning of April after people had not received relief supplies and food starting March 15 when the COVID-19 lockdown went into motion. Duterte initially enacted a form of martial law back when he first declared the administration’s War on Drugs. Threatening to further this in a time of crisis is reminiscent of his extrajudicial killings that occurred before the pandemic. Duterte’s zero tolerance policy for illegal substances already has many frightened for their lives. The circumstances of COVID-19 are giving Duterte room to broaden his regime of cruelty. 

Duterte was granted emergency powers on March 25 with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, a measure to allocate funds and direct hospitals to prioritize efforts that target the pandemic. Critics argue against this because of the extreme measures he took when he waged his drug war. Duterte’s orders allow security forces to shoot to kill anyone they feel is a threat. In a personal statement addressing the president’s overstepping of authority, University of the Philippines Law professor Jay Batongbacal said, “No to emergency powers. The existing powers are already being abused.” Duterte’s past points ontaking advantage of these powers  are widely regarded as a means of keeping the people in a state of fear. So far he has only asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to work around the clock, never closing under the new twenty-four hour operation. These agencies work to find a vaccine and assess effective medicine for the virus. 

Even though the Bayanihan Act’s main purpose is for Duterte to redistribute funding for efforts against the virus, it contains provisions that would punish those who are spreading fake news about the virus. Some say that it could be used to target people opposing Duterte’s regime. “Under such emergency, local government officials risk being booted out from their post for merely adjusting their COVID-19 response to the specific needs of their jurisdiction,” says Rep. Arlene Brosas. As local governments try to figure out the best way to combat the virus, this provision will limit the possibility of exploring every option. 

There is one measure in the act however, that allows for Congress to examine Duterte’s actions and regulations in regards to his new emergency powers. Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros is keeping an eye on how this will be carried out, saying that “The Senate must exercise its oversight functions,” she affirms. “I’ll be very active that Bayanihan Law is exercised without abuse and funds will reach those who need it most.” In addition to this clause in the act, Duterte must also send weekly reports to Congress about how effectively he has utilized these powers. 

On May 5, the leading broadcast network ABS-CBN was forced to shut down by orders from the National Telecommunications Commision. Duterte has been targeting the network since his election in 2016 when they refused to run his presidential campaign ads. Since then, they have closely followed the cruelty of the drug war and more recently, have been communicating important updates regarding the current public health crisis. A statement from the network reads, “Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight (5 May 2020) when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.” The last time ABS-CBN was forced off the air was in September of 1972 during a time of martial law when President Ferdinand Marcos chose not to renew the network’s license. A controversial leader, Marcos was known for his brutality and corruption, quite similar to Duterte. A repeat of the past seems to be becoming a threat to the freedom of press and has even caught the attention of human rights activists

The United Nations has reported that such a “highly militarised response” from the Philippines with coronavirus restrictions is cause for concern. They also named China, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador as countries who instrumentalized the pandemic as a means to hide their human rights violations. Peggy Hicks, the Director of Thematic Engagement at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned that any restrictions enacted in these states as a response to the pandemic, must be absolutely necessary and of a temporary placement. The United Nation’s unease about how many countries are dealing with the pandemic is indicative not only of the change that needs to occur in the Philippines, but every country scapegoating the health crisis as a means to extend austerely draconian policies across the globe.


By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

Many residents of the continental United States lack a general awareness of the U.S.’s intricate colonial history and the people who continue to live under this specter of neocolonialism. This targets the peoples of the five inhabited national territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. For the peoples of these national territories, their life directions continue to be shaped by a series of 115-year-old cases known as the Insular Cases. At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. acquired new land possessions during its imperial pursuits and the question of what role these new territories would play remained unanswered. In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court established that they would only be granted the most basic of rights because these “alien races” would not be able to understand Anglo-Saxon principles of law and society. For the “incorporated territories,” such as Arizona, that were still on the path to statehood, the Constitution applied in its entirety. For the “unincorporated territories,” however, these protections would not be extended largely in part because of their ethnoracial compositions. The patronizing and racist undertones of these decisions would set the tone for the U.S.’s historical and contemporary interactions with its territories.

Today, these populations lack visibility and still have not been truly incorporated into the United States. They can send delegates to the nominating conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties as well as participate in the presidential primary elections. They cannot, however, participate in the electoral college or general election. Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all elect delegates to represent them in the House of Representative, but they are nonvoting members. These delegates only serve a symbolic purpose as nonvoting members of congress, so 4.1 million people are effectively barred from any real means of political representation. The blatantly prejudiced Insular Cases continue to reinforce the relations between the U.S. and these territories today.

The same judge that established the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine of racial separation in the Brown v. Board of Education delivered the decision in the first of the Insular Cases. While Brown v. Board would eventually be struck down with Plessy v. Ferguson, the Insular Cases continue to hold and have been cited in recent fights against the peculiar legal position of the U.S. territories. Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all have birthright citizenship, but lack political representation. This is because from 1917 to 1986, U.S. congress passed individual measures which slowly conferred birthright citizenship onto the four other national territories, but American Samoans remain denied birthright citizenship. American Samoans are conferred with the legal status of “U.S. nationals” at birth and are barred from many career types and from political representation, as such. Earlier this year, five American Samoans brought a case for birthright citizenship against the United States to the US Court of Appeals where it was ruled that birthright citizenship does not extend to U.S. island territories, effectively expanding the antiquated, racially-biased case precedent of the Insular Cases. They filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court and many legal scholars are hoping that the SCOTUS grants this writ. If it is granted, the SCOTUS will order the lower court to send up the documents for judicial review. It is uncertain, however, at this point whether the Supreme Court will choose to take on this case because of its widespread implications for the interpretation of the 14th amendment in a political landscape, with a growing body advocating that the U.S. end birthright citizenship. The 14th amendment’s grant of birthright citizenship has slowly been expanded to the other national territories. Any new congressional or judicial orders regarding citizenship for American Samoans would be pushing against a political current that is slowly moving against the 14th amendment’s grant of citizenship to anyone born in U.S. soil or to U.S. citizen parents. The political salience of the citizenship debate is primarily fueled by anti-immigrant anxieties directed at the growing Hispanic/Latino population in the continental United States.

Still, the plights of those within the unincorporated territories demonstrates the ways in which neocolonialism continues to impact the lives of many people within the U.S. empire. With the Obama administration’s foreign policy “Pivot to Asia,” U.S. military presence in the region is growing and many old bases of our imperial past are re-opened and new bases are created. The pacific nations of our unincorporated territories have historically and contemporarily served as strategic geopolitical points in our military pursuits. The U.S. military occupies over 27 percent of Guam’s land mass. Both Guam and American Samoa “contribute a disproportionate share of military recruits but don’t receive veteran assistance commensurate with that effort.” Despite their more than even share within American expansionary and military efforts, these people continue to be denied even the most basic protections of citizenship. This sharply contrasts with the situations of many Filipino-Americans who gained citizenship or whose families gained citizenship through their military service. Paths to citizenship have been carved out or legislated on for many Asian and Pacific-Islander groups historically, but American Samoans continue to be relegated to the status of U.S. nationals, not citizens. As politically dispossessed peoples, the national territories continue to remain subjugated in the long-standing power dynamics. While we are supposedly gearing up to celebrate our shared history with the Asia-Pacific region and increase our geopolitical presence, will we continue to ignore those caught within the webs of our own imperialist past and present?

Image By Ben Miller


A WINTER STORM IS COMING photo Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 11.41.33 PM_zps2r5slxjg.png

By Anjleena Sahni
Staff Writer

In recent years, the global climate has been an increasingly dominant topic of conversation. As floods, typhoons, and hurricanes plague nations around the world, a close watch has been kept on any abnormal weather patterns. One of these observed patterns is El Niño, a centuries old phenomenon characterized by a warming of the surface layers in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Generally, El Niño is known as the warming of waters along the Pacific equator. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), El Niño occurs about every two to seven years, developing from April through June and manifesting in December through February. During El Niño, the physical relationships between trade winds, currents, and oceanic/atmospheric temperature break from their regular patterns, wreaking havoc on the biosphere and weather conditions around the world (“The TAO Project…”). I will explain what causes El Niño, and how this inexplicable phenomenon affects different parts of the globe.

The normal pattern of Pacific trade winds are to blow from east to west, dragging warm surface water westward with them. Just east of Indonesia, the warm surface waters form a deep pool. In a process known as upwelling, colder waters containing essential nutrients rise to the surface, nourishing organisms that would otherwise not survive. However for unknown reasons, the trade winds occasionally relax, or even reverse direction. In response, the warm surface waters from the pool formed east of Indonesia begin to shift eastward (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”). These warm surface waters essentially act as a cap, preventing the nutrient rich cold water from upwelling. Phytoplankton, the foundation of the marine food chain, starve, along with dependent fish and mammals higher up on the food chain (“What is El Niño…”).

The most recent forecast, put forth by Colombia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), confirms, “All atmospheric variables strongly support the El Niño pattern, including weakened trade winds and excess rainfall in the east-central tropical Pacific” (“2015 October Quick Look”). The consensus of prediction models is that strong El Niño conditions will continue through the season, with peak temperatures in January or February. Currently, this year’s El Niño is forecasted to be on par with the El Niño of 1997, the strongest on record. The general prediction, based on patterns of the past, is that North and South America will experience more precipitation and possible storm-like conditions, while East Africa, Australia, and Indonesia face drought (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”).

The significance of El Niño lies with its wide reaching global effects; the disruption of local weather patterns have profound consequences around the world, often affecting the most vulnerable groups. In 1982, 25% of the adult fur seal and sea lion populations along the coast of Peru starved to death. All of the pups in both populations died, and fish populations were similarly affected. In the western Pacific, changes in sea level exposed the upper layers of many coral reefs in surrounding islands, allowing air to erode and destroy them (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”). Economic impacts are equally critical. The El Niño of 1982-83 is estimated by the NOAA to have caused about 8 billion dollars in damages due to floods, severe storms, droughts, and fires around the world. In the same year, wildfires killed an estimated 75 people and burned 2,500 houses in Australia alone. Countries with fewer resources to cope with the climate conditions, such as nearby Papua New Guinea, are affected even more drastically (“ (“‘Super’ El Niño…”). Largely rural areas in Africa and Central America, already suffering from problematic climate conditions and persistent drought, face aggravated circumstances with the predicted “super” El Niño. In the worst-case scenario, drought and starvation could become push factors, driving people out of their countries in search of refuge(“‘Super’ El Niño…”). With the current migration crises in Europe and the Middle East, additional thousands of displaced migrants would cause pandemonium, exacerbating the precarious political and economic situations in each region. It is impossible to make an exact prediction, but this year’s event could potentially bring drought, typhoons, landslides, or any number of the weather conditions that have been observed in the past. Although its effects are unpredictable, the patterns of the past indicate that this year’s “super” El Niño could have some serious ramifications worldwide, both ecologically and economically.

Works Cited

“2015 October Quick Look.” International Research Institute for Climate and Society. 15 Oct.       2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

“NOAA/PMEL/TAO: The El Niño Story.” NOAA/PMEL/TAO: The El Niño Story. Web. 24 Oct.  2015.

“‘Super’ El Niño Looks Set to Ruin the Lives of Many of the World’s Most Vulnerable People |    VICE News.” VICE News RSS. VICE News. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

“The TAO Project: Definitions of El Nino.” The TAO Project: Definitions of El Nino. Web. 24      Oct. 2015.

“What Is El Nino? Fact Sheet: Feature Articles.” What Is El Nino? Fact Sheet: Feature Articles.    Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center