With eased lockdown measures, the reported cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise around the country, especially in parts of Metro Manila. Meanwhile, more local government units were also put under new community quarantine regulations.
Government priorities continue to be questioned amid rising infection rates, with ABS-CBN’s bid for franchise renewal quashed in Congress and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 soon to take effect.
ABS-CBN franchise renewal denied
Last Friday, July 10, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises moved to reject ABS-CBN’s application for another 25-year renewal of its franchise, voting 70-11. Prior to the decision, representatives ran extensive hearings over the ownership status of the company, the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairperson emeritus Gabby Lopez, the media corporation’s use of Philippine Depositary Receipts, labor issues, and alleged tax delinquencies.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who voted in favor of renewing the company’s franchise, reiterated that government agencies have cleared all allegations against the beleaguered station. “Malinaw ang binanggit na mga inimbitahan nating resource persons sa iba’t-ibang regulatory agencies: walang napatunayang pagkakasala ang ABS-CBN,” he explained.
(What has been said by our resource persons from different regulatory agencies is clear: ABS-CBN is not guilty of any wrongdoing.)
Meanwhile, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, stated that the refusal to renew the franchise of the country’s largest broadcast network is an assault on press freedom. Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon underlined that “in the face of a global pandemic, the people need more access to information” which ABS-CBN provides “even in the farthest locality unreachable to others, even to the government.”
The House panel’s decision was met with public backlash, as it put the jobs of more than 11,000 workers under the media company at risk. ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak previously said in a Senate hearing last May 19 that retrenching workers would be considered “if [they] cannot get back on air by August”.
The decision also angered members of the upper house. Sen. Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor and employment, lamented that the verdict will only create more joblessness, adding to the 7.3 million Filipinos who are already unemployed. “Malinaw po sana sa atin na manggagawa at ang kanilang pamilya ang talo sa desisyon na ito,” he expressed.
(I hope it is clear to us that ABS-CBN workers and their families are the ones who lose out in this decision.)
The nationwide tally for COVID-19 cases in the country breached the 50,000 mark the past week when 50,359 total cases were reported last Wednesday, July 8. The number further increased to 54,222 by Saturday, July 11, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced a shift in the reporting of cases. Active cases, rather than total cases, are now given more emphasis in official case bulletins published by the DOH. “The number of cases will really increase while there is no vaccine. What is important is to know how many active cases there are,” explained Roque.
The surge of positive cases stemmed from the relaxation of community quarantine measures, the DOH cautioned. In light of reports that airborne transmission is possible for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the department stressed in a statement last July 10 that “public compliance to prescribed heath protocols” still plays a significant role deterring the pandemic’s effect on the country, reminding the public to wear masks as it “lowers the chance of transmission by up to 85 [percent].”
Enhanced Community Quarantine regulations may be imposed again if cases continue to surge. “‘Pag lumala talaga at mawalan tayo ng critical care capacity, o ‘di kaya yung case-doubling rate ay bumalik sa dating napakabilis, wala po tayo alternatibo,” Roque declared last July 6. He reiterated, however, that quarantine measures were only lifted due to economic pressures, “We cannot afford another lockdown.”
(If the situation worsens and we end up with insufficient critical care capacity, or if the case doubling rate rises again, we would not have any other alternatives.)
Countering the Anti-Terrorism Act
Various civic and progressive groups headed to the Supreme Court (SC) in the past week to challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorsim Act of 2020.
As of July 9, seven petitions have been filed to the SC. The De La Salle Brothers and a group of lawyers, led by former De La Salle Philippines President Br. Armin Luistro FSC and Atty. Howard Calleja, respectively, physically submitted their petition before the court on Monday, July 6. Far Eastern University law faculty members, led by Dean Mel Sta. Maria, also filed a request for a temporary restraining order against the act on the same day. Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman and the Makabayan bloc also joined in a united front against the contentious law.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s former government corporate counsel Lawyer Rudolf Jurado, filed the fifth petition on Wednesday, July 8, as well as the sixth petition by 1986 Constitutional Commission members, Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo. They were joined by Ateneo and Xavier Law professors, the Ateneo Human Rights Center, Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., and Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa.
On Thursday, July 9, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center filed the seventh petition. The former was represented by Daisy Arago and the latter by Atty. Noel V. Neri, Armando Teodoro Jr., Violeta Espiritu, and Virginia Flores.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra expressed that the petitions were “a positive development”, as it provides all concerned parties with “the appropriate forum for the resolution of all the legal and constitutional issues involved, with finality”. Roque, meanwhile, promised that the government will abide by the high court’s ruling, regardless of what the outcome will be.
Duterte, albeit asserting that the law will not be used aimlessly, took a hardline stance, declaring communist groups as “terrorists” in his past-midnight address last Wednesday, July 8. “I finally declared them to be one. Why? I spent most of my days as a president trying to figure out and connect with them on how we can arrive at a peaceful solution.”
The Duterte administration had initially attempted to hold peace negotiations with leftist and communist groups. These were, however, impeded by mutual accusations of violating the peace process. “It was a good rapport while it lasted. Iyong na-presidente na ako, naiba na lang ang istorya simply because in the ladder of priority, the highest for me would be the security of the state,” said Duterte.
(When I became president, the conditions changed.)
Duterte reassured the public that they need not fear the new law “kung hindi ka terorista.”
(If you are not a terrorist.)
Updated quarantine guidelines
The COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force has lifted the travel suspension on “non-essential trips” abroad last Tuesday, July 7. Roque detailed that outbound Filipino passengers are required to obtain proper health insurance to cover rebooking and accommodation in case they will be denied entry or held for treatment.
Barbershops and salons can now offer haircut and hair treatment services in areas under General Community Quarantine; these can operate at 30 percent capacity until July 15. For areas under Modified General Community Quarantine, business establishments are allowed up to half of their capacity until July 15 and up to 75 percent starting July 16.
Motorcycle back riding is also allowed for couples. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that couples—”living in the same household, whether they are married or they are common-law husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend”—are required to present IDs “with the same surnames” or the same address.