COVID-19 Op-ed

Discrimination and social stigma perturbing frontliners and COVID-19 patients in the Philippines

Written by admin

Gianna Francesca M.
Gianna completed her Master’s degree in Human
Rights and Democratization at Mahidol University and is the incumbent
treasurer of the Asia-Pacific Master’s Program Alumni Association. She
currently works for Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through
Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS Inc.), a Manila-based

Try envisioning yourself as a front liner—perhaps a security
guard, a grocery cashier, a health worker, a garbage collector, or a police
officer at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. Exhausted
after a ten-hour shift with no hazard pay, trekking for several kilometers
from the drop-off point of your shuttle bus, and yet you are evicted from
your boarding house of fears that you contacted COVID-19.You tune in to the
news or skim through your Facebook newsfeed and see tales of neglect and discrimination
against your fellow health workers and those who succumbed to the virus.
Discriminatory acts, such as impetuous expulsion from their rented flats or
dormitories, cyberbullying, doxing, barring from establishments, denying
entry to their barangay (village) or homes, refusal from
receiving relief goods, and even sneering from villagers and authorities, has
been the prevalent and ‘infectious’ disease burdening patients, front liners,
and distressed migrants from infected countries.Freedom from discrimination,
as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and echoed in the
1987 Constitution, states that all individuals are entitled to human rights
“regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political
beliefs, and any other status.” Anti-discriminatory provisions of statutory
laws, including Article 9 of the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, are in
effect and not suspended even if the country enshrouds in a state of
emergency.Cases of discrimination are piling up. A young utility worker at a
hospital was ganged up by five men and doused with bleach in Sultan Kudarat
province (Dayupay, 2020). He suffered eye trauma and is at risk of permanent
blindness. A few days later, a 51-year-old ambulance driver in Quezon
province was injured after one civilian fired his gun and accused him of
transporting patients positive of COVID-19 (Bajo, 2020). During that time, he
was simply ferrying health workers to work. As a result, the driver, also a
breadwinner, suffers from hand disarticulation (ABS-CBN News, 2020). Back in
Manila, a supermarket security guard lost both her rented apartment and her
job after a thermal scan showed her temperature was more than 36 degrees
Celsius (Ornedo, 2020). She went to a hospital and later found out that the
thermal scanner displayed inaccurate information. Before she defended
herself, her employer and homeowner sacked her without any due compensation.Some
COVID-19 patients and their kin are prone to violence caused by social
stigma. In Iloilo City, neighbors cast stones at a house of a family whose
patriarch died due to the virus. (Yap, 2020). The four infected family
members are embroiled in a hapless ‘new reality’ of neighbors turning their
backs and shunning them.These horrific incidents exponentially multiply along
with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Despite a wave of public support and donations
such as food, face masks, Personal Protective Equipment, synchronized songs
boosting their morale, and the star-studded “thank yous,” health workers and
other front liners need social protection and redress during these trying
times. Social stigma and discrimination shackling their welfare can go even
after the final COVID-19 patient in the country discharges from the
hospital.The Philippine government needs to iron out urgent measures to
protect the rights of frontliners and patients. As of this writing, Metro
Manila mayors passed a resolution urging local government units to penalize
those discriminating front liners, distressed Filipino migrants from COVID-19
affected countries, and patients (MMDA, 2020). On the other hand, the public
must show benevolence and observe precautionary measures without infringing
on others’ freedoms.Once the country’s bout with COVID-19 and stringent
quarantine protocols are over, are we still going to value the sacrifices of
health workers who strenuously mitigated the spread of the virus, or the
minimum wage earners and other front liners who risked their health to serve
the more fortunate Filipinos?References:Bajo,
A.F. (2020, April 3).
Nagpaputok ng baril sa ambulance driver sa Quezon, naaresto at kinasuhan
. GMA News.Dayupay, J. (2020, March 28).
worker, sinabuyan ng bleach.
MMDA, MMC Approve Resolutions on
Social Amelioration Packages (SAP)
Distribution and
Discrimination Against COVID-19 Patients, Frontliners
(2020, April
7). Metro Manila Development Authority. Retrieved April 8, 2020,
J.M. (2020, 6 April). Guard
kicked out of apartment, loses job to fever amid COVID-19 fears
GMA Network.Private hospitals’ group condemns
shooting of COVID-19 frontliner in Quezon.
(2020, April 3).
ABS-CBN News. Retrieved April 8, 2020, from
UN General
Assembly (10 December 1948)
. Universal Declaration of
Human Rights
.Yap, T. (2020, 5 April) Stoning
of residence of family being ravaged by COVID-19 condemned
Manila Bulletin. _________________________________ Section 9 of
the law states that,A public worker shall not
be discriminated against with regard to gender, civil status, civil status,
creed, religious or political beliefs and ethnic groupings in the exercise of
his/her profession.”

About the author