MANILA — The Philippine Department of Health has confirmed that it is closely monitoring 80 patients for the coronavirus. On February 1, a 44-year-old man died in a Manila hospital after developing severe pneumonia, the first reported death outside of China.

Filipinos have been panic-buying hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and face masks since the first case of infection was confirmed in the country on January 30.

The hashtag #OustDuterte started trending on Twitter, stemming from a general distrust in the country's healthcare system and the government's inability to diminish fears. With a reputation of prioritizing relations with China over domestic concerns, President Rodrigo Duterte has once again become the target of outrage.

“I don’t think it’s just about just this outbreak. It’s like the last straw, something that snaps patience," award-winning journalist Inday Espina Varona told The News Lens.

Duterte announced a temporary travel ban on China's Hubei province a day after the coronavirus entered the Philippines. Many on social media felt that his late reaction was due to his reluctance to strain ties with Beijing. Health Secretary Francisco Duque also warned against the “political and diplomatic repercussions” of a travel ban on Chinese tourists, reflecting the deeply entrenched Chinese interests in the Philippines.

Two days after the initial announcement, Duterte widened the scope of the travel ban to include the whole of China along with Hong Kong and Macau.

In the days following the first confirmed case of coronavirus, the Presidential Palace's response further fueled public anger. When asked about Duterte's whereabouts, the administration spokesman Salvador Panelo said the president was busy "reading" in his hometown of Davao.

Panelo also said that the government will not be giving away surgical masks to vulnerable communities because it has none. Netizens pointed out the government officials had given the same neglectful response during the recent Taal Volcano crisis until pressured to provide aid.

The online narrative over public health concerns almost immediately pointed to the inefficiencies of the Duterte administration. Varona noted that even Duterter supporters have become critical of his administration since the coronavirus outbreak.

"People who may have ignored the extra-judicial killings will get angry over perceived flaws in the handling of... a global health emergency because there’s a real potential of [the virus] affecting them personally. " Varona said. "Everyone knows this disease is an equal opportunity threat, except that the poor are more vulnerable.”


© Michael Beltran

Protesting members of the national urban poor group Kadamay, donning fake surgical masks decorated with #OustDuterte

Kadamay, the National Alliance of Filipino Urban Poor, mobilized the day after #OustDuterte went viral on Twitter. The group protested with makeshift masks, slamming the sluggish administration and calling for emergency aid for the poor living in tight-confined slums that are both physically and economically vulnerable to the disease.

"Medical services do not come cheap in the Philippines. Poor Filipinos are averse to the idea of going to the hospital just for a check-up because they are aware of the costs it will incur. In this time of emergency, the Duterte administration is hardly lifting a finger," said Gloria Arellano, the President of Kadamay.

The group had been calling to remove Duterte from office since the end of 2017 for his “crimes against the poor."

Senator Bong Go, who also heads the health committee, reassured the disgruntled citizens after the protest.“The whole Duterte administration has been on top of the situation and is doing everything it can to address the issue," he said. "The President is listening to your grievances but his decision will be based on what will be best for all.”

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TNL Editor: Jeremy Van der Haegen (@thenewslensintl)

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