Sancelan couple killing puts communities at risk, lack of health care

December 18, 2020

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) condemns the killing of Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and her husband, Edwin Sancelan, while on their way home last December 15, 2020. Despite serving as government employees in Negros Oriental, Dr. Sancelan was Number 1 in a list of persons who were accused of being communists by a supposed vigilante group in 2018 [1,2]. The Sancelan couple’s death shows that the government failed to protect them, or even abetted attacks against them.

At a time when everyone is placed in a vulnerable position by an evolving disease that our pre-existing health care system is struggling to contain, those who are helping people and serving at the frontlines were not spared from these attacks. This is unacceptable! Dr. Sancelan was the sole doctor in Guihulngan municipality, served 33 barangays and headed the inter-agency task force responsible for containing COVID-19 in their region. She was one of the many health workers trying to hold our disjointed health care system together amidst the unequal capacities of local governments to do so, while the national government continues to transfer the burden of controlling the pandemic to local governments.

By failing to protect — nay, possibly abetting the attacks against — Dr. Sancelan, the government did not only place a whole community at the risk of COVID-19 but also added that community in the rising list of Filipinos without access to health care at a time it is needed the most.

At a time when Filipinos should be united in acting against a common enemy that has taken lives worldwide, the Philippine government has taken advantage of the crisis caused by the common enemy for its narrow agenda.

When the very people trying to fill in the gaps of government incompetence are the ones put in a bad light and attacked, it is clear that the government is not for its people but rather for itself. We put such a high pressure on employers to control hazards and minimize risks to ensure the safety and health of employees at work. The government should do the same.

We have seen the length that this administration is willing to take to silence its critics and those it perceives as its critics: peddling fake news, dismissing people from positions, imprisoning and killing people. It has tried to prevent people from criticizing this government’s supposed “achievements” and its violations of the law and human rights. Calls for accountability are met with retaliation such as the arrest of six unionists and one journalist on International Human Rights Day, no less[3].

Killings in the guise of keeping peace and order are not new to this administration. The war on drugs claimed at least 27,000 lives[4] while Oplan Sauron in Negros caused at least 20 deaths[5]. Rodrigo Duterte’s term has also made the country the most dangerous place for environmental activists, with 113 deaths since he took office[6].

There is already a reasonable basis for the International Criminal Court or ICC to believe that crimes against humanity were committed by this administration[7] and the occurrence of a pandemic did not seem to slow the carrying out of these crimes.