Editorial: Prioritizing people in crises

·3 min read

THE photo shows a prosaic scene from a government-sponsored training: men and women listening to a speaker inside a cavernous multi-purpose building.

Only the facial masks and spaced apart seats allude to the pandemic that continues as participants from six Cebu City barangays trained as first responders in disaster response with the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO).

According to the April 6, 2021 report by Nancy R. Cudis in SunStar Cebu, the frst batch of trainees come from the barangays of Sirao, Pit-os, Binaliw, Guba, Agsungot and Cambinocot. The CDRRMO targets training first responders in all of the 80 barangays of Cebu City.

Emergency responders are defined as persons equipped with specialized training to assist the affected at the site of a disaster or crisis, which may be caused by nature or people, such as acts of terrorism.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians are emergency responders.

However, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has complicated the traditional notion of disasters and crises and, by association, first responders.

Sending off not just ripples but convulsions of repercussions in communities, the pandemic redefines emergency preparedness and response.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasize, “To take care of others, responders must be feeling well and thinking clearly.”

This is sound advice that applies not just to a group of people given specialized training to respond in an emergency but ideally to encompass all public servants, who are at the frontlines of responding to crises and other emergencies.

Two recent incidents emphasize the dearth of humanitarianism in official handling of the pandemic under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed in the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble.

On March 30, food deliverer Marvin Ignacio was prevented by village officials in Barangay Mozon in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan from delivering “lugaw (porridge)” to customers because they did not consider the food as “essential” and delivery of such as exempted from the ECQ curfew. Ignacio livestreamed the incident on social media and set off citizens furious over the inconsistent, arbitrary and insensitive interpretation of regulations regarding the ECQ implementation.

Although barangay officials apologized to Ignacio after the video went viral, Ignacio stopped working and the restaurant closed after men associated with the local government reportedly harassed them for blowing up the “lugaw” incident. Ignacio supported his son, wife and father with his earnings as a rider.

On April 1, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo was apprehended for buying a bottle of water past the 6 p.m. curfew in General Trias City in Cavite. Along with other curfew violators, Peñaredondo was required to finish 100 rounds of squats, which was increased to 300.

Peñaredondo died the following day, suffering a stroke caused by hypertension. The Philippine National Police (PNP) relieved the General Trias police chief and two other policemen, reassigning the officers to the PNP provincial headquarters in Imus while administrative and criminal complaints are being filed.

The handling of the two incidents shows a disconnection between situations involving public health and officials’ peace-and-order response to the situation. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) denounced the extreme punishment imposed on Peñaredondo and other curfew violators as an “overreach of quarantine rules,” reported the Rappler on April 7.

Public servants responding to disasters and crises must be trained to analyze situations and distinguish carefully between public health and law enforcement; tailor their appropriate response; and understand their role as first responders.

First responders’ failure to make this critical analysis will only force persons deeper into crises.