Our Desk

All in the same boat, they say

Lynzy Valles

The mandate that all Filipino nationals should undergo mass testing has led to public outcry, fueled frustrations and disappointment among many, and several have been perturbed by how easily migrant workers are targeted by these measures.

Last week, the government mandated that all Filipino nationals are to undergo mass testing as they comprised 9.5% of the Covid-19 cases in the city.

Causing outrage online and offline, authorities stated the next day that 25% of the community cases over the past two weeks were Filipinos. 

That 25% amounts to 20 cases, 20 Filipinos. 

Available data shows that roughly 4% of the current population in the city are Filipino nationals, given that many have left amid the pandemic crisis that has forced companies to lay off employees – including locals. 

171 Covid-19 cases, 20 community cases. These are the justifications for the mandatory testing.

Details on the 171 cases were not provided. Were they essential workers? Workers who were exposed and therefore more prone to contracting the virus while the city was half asleep during the partial lockdown? 

Were they domestic workers who were not living with their employers despite several calls by the government for bosses to arrange a place for them to stay at their homes but who could not because a spare room was not available – and hence had to take public transport?

Or were they workers who squeezed themselves together into a two-bedroom apartment, sharing a room with three to four other people, hence constituting a ‘gathering?’

Heeding the government’s call for mass testing is not difficult. What is a 10-minute walk to a nucleic acid test (NAT) station to get the test done if it can assist with tracing the origin of the infection? Especially if authorities also call on employers to allow their staff to undergo testing during work hours. We all come away from these stations with freebies in hand: free N95 masks and rapid antigen test kits.

This jurisdiction has been generous in making sure the public heeds their call to achieve their goal of zero cases. 

It has, however, become difficult to achieve because of an underlying problem – the circumstances of vulnerable groups. 

The vulnerable ones that are not included in the minimum wage law – the vulnerable ones who earn the least, and work the longest. 

They are not just part of a global health crisis; they are a part of a crisis that has long existed. 

The pandemic has only exposed (yet again) how the majority of these nationals residing in the city see a proper housing environment as luxury due to the outdated MOP500 housing allowance. They are thus becoming more prone to contracting the virus because of these “gatherings.” 

What has happened also echoes the UN Human Rights Committee’s (UNHRC) questions last week, which grilled the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL) over the absence of a minimum wage for domestic helpers.

To this question, the bureau inexplicably responded, “The main reason for it is because domestic helpers are special and families [who] employ domestic workers are providing jobs and the domestic workers are not there [to help them] make a profit.”

In response to the mandate, the Philippine Consulate General in the SAR issued three statements over the weekend, which were also heavily criticized by many as throwing Filipinos under the bus.

In its second statement, the Consulate remarked, “lubos na nababahala,” which translates to a statement that it was “extremely concerned” over the one in four Filipino cases in the community.

Given the circumstances of Filipino essential workers in the community, 20 community cases are less concerning. The sad reality of these vulnerable groups gives us much more to be “extremely concerned” about.  

Categories Opinion