Isko: Stop discrimination vs health workers, ex-COVID-19 patients

Isko Moreno with Floorleader Joel Chua
Mayor Isko Moreno with Majority Floorleader Joel Chua. Photo by JERRY S. TAN

BOTHERED by the stigma being unnecessarily attached to all healthcare workers and former COVID 19 patients or persons suspected of being infected, Mayor Isko Moreno asked the Manila City Council headed by Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna to pass an ordinance that would protect said people and penalize violators.

Known as the ‘Ánti-COVID Discrimination Ordinance of 2020,’ the city administration-backed measure is a ‘first’ in the country and aims to nip in the bud any discriminatory acts aimed against health frontliners and patients who have either recovered from the coronavirus or are currently being monitored or probed for possibly having the illness.

​The said ordinance, sponsored by Council president protempore Ernesto ‘Jong’ Isip, Jr. and majority floorleader Joel Chua, who are both lawyers, prohibits any person from commiting any act which causes stigma, disgrace, shame, humiliation or any form of discrimination against a person infected, under monitoring or investigation due to the COVID 19 virus, including public and private doctors nurses, health workers, emergency personnel or other centers where these persons are being treated.

‘Naawa ako sa kanila (patients)… sa mga kuwento nila kaya ‘yung mga gumaling ay binigyan natin ng halfway house,’  Moreno said, as he called on the public to ‘stop discriminating against the recovered patients as well as health care workers who risk their very own lives and that of their loved ones fulfilling their duty to protect and care for all of us.’

In the ordinance which was unanimously passed by the Manila City Council during yesterday’s session,  it was noted that ‘since the emergence of COVID-19, we have seen instances of public stigmatization among persons who have contracted the disease including PUIs and PUMs, and the rise of harmful stereotypes. This means that people are being labelled, stereotyped, separated and/or experience loss of status and discrimination because of a potential negative affiliation with the disease. Stigmatization could drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination or prevent people from seeking health care immediately and discourage them from adopting healthy behavior.’

​‘The Department of Health (DOH) recently warned the public against discrimination against persons reported to have contracted COVID-19 as well as PUIs, PUMs including health workers and emergency workers who are among those in the front lines of the battle against the rapidly spreading COVID-19; The DOH stated “that with the world confronted with a virus with little information known, it is human to be afraid. But we must not allow hysteria and paranoia to result in irrational treatment of people,’the ordinance added.

​Moreno, in asking for the passage of the said measure, lamented that there have been several reported incidents of people being evicted out of their residences or after having recovered from the illness were prevented from returning back to their residences, while some were even doused with water and were refused services in eateries or transportations over fears of infection.

​‘Some were shunned by local stores, boarding houses, and even their own barangays and homes. Several false and inaccurate social media posts even circulated online spreading names of people alleged to have been infected with COVID-19 and urging the recipients to check if they had contact with those listed,’ the ordinance stated further.

Considering the gravity of the situation, there is an urgent need to combat this pervasive stigmatization on the basis of one’s medical condition and unjust discrimination prevalent during this state of public health emergency,’it added.

The ordinance thus makes it unlawful for any person, whether natural or juridical, to commit any act or make utterances which cause or tend to cause stigma, disgrace, shame, humiliation or otherwise discriminating against a person infected, under investigation or monitoring due to COVID-19, health worker or front liner as defined under this Ordinance.

​If any public officer refuses or fails to give assistance to a person infected, under investigation or monitoring due to COVID-19, health worker or front liner who intends to return to his place of residence or domicile, after obtaining clearance of the COVID-19 infection from the proper health officials, he or she shall be equally liable under this section.

Any person who shall publicly claim, post on social media, spread or announce that a person is infected, is under investigation or monitoring due to COVID-19 without any validation of the official list from the authorized proper health officials, agency or department, shall also be liable under this section. If the person violating is a public officer, the penalty imposed shall be in its maximum and can also be a ground for filing of an administrative case against said official.

Any person caught in violation will be fined P5,000 or face imprisonment not exceeding six months or both at the discretion of the court. If the offender is a public officer, the maximum penalty herein shall be imposed.

The ordinance also stressed that in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, specifically under Article III, Section 1, it is provided that every person has the right to life, liberty, security of person and privacy and the right to be free from discrimination. Furthermore, under Section 11 thereof, the State values the dignity of every person and guarantees full respect for human rights.

​Health workers are those who deliver care and services to the sick and ailing either directly or indirectly. Health workers include, among others, doctors, nurses, hospital and clinic aides, and laboratory technicians.  Front liners include officers and members of the PNP, AFP, PCG and instrumentalities of the government rendering emergency frontline services, border control and other critical services.

​Front liners also include service workers who are working in private establishments providing basic necessities and such activities related to food and medicine production, i.e. public markets, supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, hospitals, medical clinics, pharmacies and drug stores, food preparation and delivery services, water-refilling stations, manufacturing and processing plants of basic food products and medicines, banks, money transfer services, power, energy, water and telecommunications supplies and facilities.