28 May 2020
Despite the Philippine government’s best efforts to effectively address the various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, security anxieties of the Filipino people still prevail, if not getting worse.
Based on the recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS) released on 24 May 2020, 87 percent of Filipinos expressed enormous worries to catch the coronavirus. Security anxieties of Filipinos are, in fact, much higher compared with results of similar surveys conducted in other countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Hunger Amidst Pandemic
The SWS survey also disclosed that the number of Filipinos who suffered hunger as a result of quarantine measures against the pandemic has almost doubled the figure recorded in December 2019. Close to four million respondents claimed to have suffered hunger during the first two months of the pandemic. This was the highest figure of hunger ever recorded, thus far, during the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Aside from hunger, loss of livelihood is also exacerbating the insecurities of the Filipinos during the pandemic. When the Philippine government implemented one of the world’s most stringent measures against the pandemic, almost three million Filipino workers immediately lost their jobs.
Work stoppage and unemployment as a result of quarantine measures suddenly displaced many Filipino laborers. With no jobs to feed their families, affected individuals are now compelled by the current circumstances to beg for food. Unemployment problems can get worse as the pandemic can still persist in coming months until an anti-virus is found.
The deadly combination of hunger and fear is a perfect recipe for social unrests. If not properly prevented, social unrests can challenge the existing political order. The economic downturn caused by the pandemic can also encourage political conflicts and unleash many other security problems like food security, job security, health security, environmental security, economic security, and political security.
As a result of the pandemic, protests and violent conflicts already took place in other countries. Aside from the Philippines, social unrests were already seen in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and South Africa, among others.
Threat to International Peace and Security
In its document, A More Secure World, the United Nations identifies the spread of infectious disease as one of the major threats to international peace and security. The World Economic Forum stresses that with the current pandemic, the international community is now facing a volatile and unstable situation worse than the agony caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s. If the current situation persists, greater risks of violent conflicts can occur in the most vulnerable countries with already preexisting security problems.
The Philippines and Non-Traditional Security Threats
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the spread of infectious diseases more real rather than an imagined threat to Philippine security, particularly in non-traditional sense.
Non-traditional security threats are issues presenting clear and present danger to the survival and wellbeing of peoples and even of states. They come primarily from non-military sources like natural disasters, environmental degradation, climate change, transnational crimes, terrorism and the spread of infectious diseases like the COVID-19.
Human Security in the Time of the Pandemic
Non-traditional security threats are threats to human security where the people rather than the state is the referent for security. This people-oriented view of security is an alternative paradigm of security that privileges human welfare as the cornerstone of security policy. COVID-19 is a grave threat to human security.
The Philippine government has already acknowledged the importance of human security in its existing National Security Policy (NSP) for 2017-2022. Human security also informs the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) for 2017-2022. These documents regard infectious diseases as threats to human security that require effective economic planning and appropriate security measures.
Philippine Government Flat Footed, Philippine Society Unprepared
However, the Philippine government was still caught flat-footed with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. This indicated that despite the government’s acknowledgement of this problem in various official policy documents, capacities to respond to this problem were limited, if not lacking. The Philippine even admitted that its imposition of quarantine measures caught many sectors of the Philippine society unprepared.
Quarantine Measures: Protecting or Threatening Lives?
Though the main purpose of quarantine measures is to protect lives, uncertainties associated with conflicting information about COVID-19 situation in the country and limited capacities of the government to overcome the pandemic are, in fact, threatening lives. After almost three months of community quarantine, a sanitized term for lockdown, the Philippine government has yet to finalize a comprehensive plan to recover from the pandemic.
Response to COVID-19
The Philippine government created the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) as early as 2014 during the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to assess, monitor, contain, control and prevent the spread of any potential epidemic in the Philippines. President Duterte convened the IATF-EID in January 2020 amidst the coronavirus outbreak in China.
On 25 March 2020, the IATF-EID launched the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19. The NAP included the creation of the COVID-19 National Task Force (NTF) headed by the Secretary of National Defense (SND) who has the overall supervision of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This strongly demonstrated that overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic is inevitably an essential agenda for national defense and security.
Recovering from COVID-19
While the Philippine government is exerting its best efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19, recovering from the pandemic is equally important. The COVID-19 has revealed the awful limitation of Philippine governance capacity in responding to the pandemic. Recovering from the pandemic presents another major challenge to the Philippine government.
It is therefore imperative for the Philippine government to set out an effective recovery plan that is mindful of security aspects and consequences of the pandemic.
With an effective recovery plan, the government can hopefully bring the Philippine society in a new normal situation where the welfare, well being and ways of life of the Filipino people are duly protected and enhanced.
*Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD, is the Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR) and a Professorial Lecturer at the Department of International Studies, Miriam College, the Philippines. He was a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) where he also served as Vice President.
Photo Credit: Capacity Media as used in Eurasia Review.