President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night announced the “largest, widest social protection program” in Philippine history to help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
This as he repeated his plea to Filipinos to continue to cooperate with government efforts during the lockdown or enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and most areas nationwide.
In a taped video message that aired shortly before midnight, the President also said he would only the emergency powers granted to him by Congress last week to direct operations of private entities and to require businesses to accept contracts "only when absolutely necessary."
Duterte said his administration has allotted over P200 billion for low-income households affected by the COVID-19 crisis, especially those in the informal sector or those under a “no work, no pay” scheme.
These funds would also be used for “recovery packages” for small and medium enterprises, for “quick response measures” to benefit farmers and fishermen, and to answer the needs of frontline medical workers fighting the spread of the virus, including the purchase of over one million Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items.
He also guaranteed the unhampered movement of cargo and commodities during the quarantine and said a price freeze was already in place for food items and other necessities.
The President specifically thanked China and Singapore for helping the country deal with the crisis, as well as the leaders of the largest local private companies, mentioning billionaires Enrique Razon and Ramon Ang by name.
The social protection program “will make up for lost economic opportunities due to quarantine measures,” Duterte said, as he again warned profiteers and corrupt government officials alike of heavy penalties should they be caught during the crisis.
“I will see to it even tomorrow. If I discover some embezzlement. I am not a cruel man, but if the police report it, I will order your detention until COVID-19 ends,” the President warned.
“Let it be said that in the hour of our country's greatest need, we all look out for and help each other. Uulitin ko. Hindi ito panahon para kumita. Hindi ito panahon para magsamantala. (I repeat, this is not a time to earn or to take advantage of people),” he added in the taped message.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo had said the Chief Executive’s report would be aired “tentatively” at 4 p.m. Monday, but media and netizens waited nearly eight hours for it to be broadcast on government station PTV-4.
This led to the trending term “Duterte Standard Time” on social media, in a play on the Daylight Savings Time policy in other countries.
But the President was serious for the most part, as he pleaded anew with Filipinos to “open up their hearts” to the needy during the coronavirus crisis, which has ground the country to a virtual halt.
Duterte noted the country was now on the third week of the COVID-19 quarantine and admitted the country was hard up on both money and supplies.
But he again thanked frontline workers for battling the outbreak and considered those who died doing so – doctors, nurses and hospital workers alike -- lucky, saying: “Napakaswerte nila, namatay sila para sa bayan. It will be an honor to die for the country.”
The President also assured local government leaders of the national governments’ support, noting that he issued an order to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea “clearly laying down the responsibilities of each department in implementing the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.’”
“I have given them orders emphasizing the need for sufficient authority so that they do not have to go back to me and ask for clearance for each and every action they have to take,” Duterte said.
He also appealed anew to the private sector “to contribute in any way you can in dealing with this national emergency.”
“We implore employers to do their part in protecting the welfare of Filipino households that belong to the formal sector and depend on their employers for continuous livelihood,” Duterte said.
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