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Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:30 AM July 05, 2020

Transport assistant secretary Goddes Hope Libiran, March 16, on the government’s then-impending move to impose a total ban on public transportation during quarantine in Metro Manila: “Napakarami kasing pasaway, matigas ang ulo, pilosopo at makasarili.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, April 16: “Ang dami pong pasaway sa atin. At dahil po diyan, number one na naman po tayo sa Asean sa dami ng COVID-19. Itigil n’yo na po ang pagiging pasaway, manatili po kayo sa inyong tahanan.”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, April 17: “Yung mga pasaway… Sigurado marami tayong aarestuhin. Dapat meron ’yang penalty magmulta o kaya makulong para di uulit ’yung mga pasaway.”

Senate President Tito Sotto, June 29: “Kaya pala ang bilis ng pagtaas ng COVID sa atin. Not because there are more mass testings now but because we are so hardheaded.”

President Duterte, June 30: “Mga Bisaya talaga, maski sa Davao, ’yung mga Bisaya doon, ang titigas talaga ng mga ulo. Hindi mo mapasunod.”

That’s the government’s grand narrative for the COVID-19 crisis: ordinary Filipinos as undisciplined, hardheaded rascals who refuse to follow basic rules, and hence to blame for the continuing rise in infections and the grinding quarantine that now stands as the world’s longest lockdown. The government’s heavy hand, its baffling resort to militaristic, harshly coercive means as the primary response to the pandemic, is wholly justified by a citizenry that cannot be counted on to act responsibly on their own.

Is the portrayal true? Not according to the data.

The “Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report,” which uses the geographic location data of smartphone users to see how people are moving about in their communities, shows that Filipinos overwhelmingly restricted their public movements during the quarantine.

On March 29, or about two weeks after ECQ was imposed in Luzon, mobility nationwide was down by 81 percent in restaurants, cafés, and shopping centers; by 82 percent in public transport hubs such as bus and train stations; and by 59 percent in parks, beaches, and plazas. On April 10, the drop in people visiting malls and similar places was 90 percent. The numbers were in comparison to the average movement data taken during the pre-pandemic period of Jan. 3 to Feb. 6.

Even after Metro Manila transitioned to GCQ on June 1, mobility remained down in retail and recreation areas (-57 percent), parks (-56 percent), transit stations (-64 percent), and workplaces (-41 percent). For the same period, in Central Visayas—where COVID-19 “hotspot” Cebu is located—mobility was lower: -69 percent in retail and recreation areas, -51 percent in parks, -70 percent in transit stations, and -35 percent in workplaces.

Despite the Google report’s limitations in terms of user and privacy settings as well as connectivity, the numbers are clear: On the question of how Filipinos reacted to measures imposed by the government since March to contain COVID-19, a vast majority, in fact, stayed home and complied with quarantine guidelines

That dovetails with other findings showing that Filipinos generally acceded to the extraordinary sacrifices demanded of them in this crisis. According to a Social Weather Stations survey, 84 percent of Filipinos, or 8 out of 10, believed that the community quarantine measures were worth it. An online survey conducted by the National Research Council of the Philippines also showed that many Filipinos were amenable to COVID-19 measures and were willing to be isolated for three to four weeks, whether they had symptoms or not.

If pasaway, on the other hand, also means obdurate, dismissive, reflexively antagonistic, and unwilling to account for shortcomings, then between the public and the administration, there’s no doubt to whom that moniker belongs.

Who refused to ban flights from China promptly to avoid offending Beijing? Who initially downplayed the gravity of the COVID-19 threat? Who was late in procuring critical PPE (personal protective equipment) and strengthening hospitals and frontliners? Who dilly-dallied in declaring a state of public health emergency?

Who failed to test and trace on an adequate scale from the very beginning — and even now has missed successive target testing numbers? Who opted for retired military generals instead of epidemiologists, scientists, and health experts to lead the fight against the pandemic? Who oversaw a relief distribution program that, three months on, still has some 300,000 families awaiting the aid promised them in April — per Malacañang itself?

Who neglected to plan for the hemorrhage of displaced OFWs and stranded individuals? Who decreed a lockdown so severe and sweeping that it would flatten the economy? And whose officials have blithely violated lockdown rules by throwing a birthday party, leading a mass gathering, or hying off to a resort to cavort with dolphins?

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