Following reports of discrimination against frontline workers, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is urging all local government units (LGUs) nationwide to pass and enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment ordinances to protect frontline workers fighting against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

“We are alarmed by the reports that reach our office on the harassment and discrimination experienced by our frontline workers including health professionals, police, military, essential services personnel, and government and non-government social workers. Sila pa naman ang mga bayani sa gitna ng laban sa Covid-19 subali’t nakakaranas at iniinda pa nila ang diskriminasyon at harassment,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año.

He said LGUs should act swiftly and enact or issue the necessary directive to safeguard those working in the frontline “who are laying their lives on the line for our general well-being. Halos isang buwan na po mula nang ideklara ang state of public health emergency sa buong bansa at enhanced community quarantine sa buong Luzon. Hinihimok ko ang mga local chief executives na bilisan ang pagpasa at pagpapatupad ng anti-discrimination ordinance para matigil na ang mga ganitong insidente,” he said.

“Umaasa ang national government sa agarang aksyon ng LGUs sa nangyayaring diskriminasyon sa frontline workers. Let us accord them the dignity and honor they deserve for their courage and service in the fight against the deadly Covid-19,” he added.

The DILG Secretary issued the directive as the government continues to receive reports on discrimination against health workers, uniformed personnel, and those working in essential services. Reported incidents range from verbal discrimination to harmful situation like throwing of bleach and the shooting of an ambulance driver.

He lauded some LGUs that have already passed an ordinance on anti-discrimination of frontline workers amid the enhanced community quarantine like Manila and Muntinlupa City and is urging other LGUs to do the same.

Año said that local ordinances are more responsive and tailor-fit to the current situation in localities amid the Covid-19 crisis aside from the fact that the Congress is not in session and it would take a while before a national law could be passed on this matter.

He emphasized the importance not only of the passage but also the proper enforcement of ordinance prohibiting specific acts of discrimination against frontline workers and imposing penalties for violations.

“Babantayan po ng DILG ang compliance ng LGUs sa direktiba ng Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) na magpasa ng anti-discrimination executive orders o ordinances para sa frontline workers sa gitna ng Covid-19 crisis,” he assured.

The IATF-MEID said that acts of discrimination, such as, but not limited to, coercion, libel, slander, physical injuries, and the dishonor of contractual obligations such as contracts of lease or employment shall be dealt with criminally, civilly and/or administratively.

Protect OFWs too

DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan E. Malaya also prodded LGUs to include in the coverage of the anti-discrimination ordinances the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have returned in their provinces amid the global pandemic.

“Maliban pa po sa frontline workers, protektahan din natin ang OFWs. Alalahanin po natin ang kanilang sakripisyo bilang modern Filipino heroes na sumusuporta sa ekonomiya ng bansa nang sila’y nagbabanat ng buto at minsa’y nakadaranas din ng diskriminasyon doon sa ibayong bansa,” Malaya said.

He said the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination ordinance should also cover COVID-19 victims as well as persons under monitoring (PUM) and persons under investigation (PUIs).

“The law should protect them as well. They did not choose to be sick. They should also be afforded the State’s protection and care,” he said. Malaya reiterated the pronouncement of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that they will provide assistance to those who suffer discrimination due to Covid-19.

The DOJ announced that their investigators, prosecutors, and legal officers have been directed to provide legal assistance to frontline workers by approaching the nearest office of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Public Attorney’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, DOJ action center, or directly to the Office of the Secretary.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also earlier ordered the police and military to watch out for anyone who will harass health workers. According to the Department of Health, there are various reports regarding discrimination against frontliners who are being refused basic services like public transport, laundry service, refused entry to supermarket or grocery stores, or being evicted from their lodging or housing.