For more than six weeks now, over 150,000 people have been warned, fined and locked up temporarily for flouting the curbs on movements, a draconian measure to halt the transmission of coronavirus in the Philippines.

Rodrigo Duterte decided to impose a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine for a month in mid-March, which was twice extended and will end May 15, not just to contain a pandemic but to help the country’s poor health system cope with the public health crisis.

The lockdown was the effective tool to slow down the rapid spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease that could overwhelm the health systems already facing shortage of coronavirus test kits, inadequate number of molecular laboratories to process specimens, hospital beds, medical equipment and supplies and manpower.

The Philippines could probably ease its restrictions only after the health system’s capacity has been increased with more isolation facilities, medical equipment and supplies, and after coronavirus testing has achieved its target of 30,000 tests a day.

The current testing capacity is about 20 percent of the target and most of the testing centers are located in the capital region. More than 50 percent of daily tests are done at the government-run Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The limited health capacity was likely the main driver for the government’s decision to impose the restrictions, which was further reinforced by fears the lockdown could lead to protests and civil unrest in poor communities.

There have been widespread complaints of delayed or non-distribution of cash subsidies to 18 million poor households, about 80 percent of the country’s 108 million population, a month after the 270-billion-peso social protection program, described as the largest-ever assistance provided by the Duterte government, was rolled out.

The implementation of the cash subsidy project — each family gets 5,000 to 8,000 pesos a month for two months — exposed the unpreparedness of the government to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

Local government units have a more accurate list of eligible beneficiaries under the program but the social welfare and development department, tasked to disburse the fund, was using a list based on a 2015 national census.

As a result, millions of poor people will be deprived of the cash assistance based on an obsolete list that does not include new births, deaths and migrations.

These two factors – poor health infrastructure and flawed list of beneficiaries – could be among the reasons why people are violating quarantine procedures as they are forced to look for means to survive the lockdown. Millions have lost jobs and livelihoods.

The lack of space in crowded neighborhoods and the heat of the dry months of March and April could be another reason why people would rather risk staying outdoors.

People in gated communities and high-rise condominiums have no problem obeying the quarantine protocols but some of them also flout the curbs on traveling, as more private vehicles are seen on the streets in the absence of public transportation.

However, these people are seldom stopped as the police are focused on crowded and poor communities in the capital region and other urban centers in the country, where human and civil rights violations are on the rise.

Two cases illustrated these police abuses: one in Quezon City where university students held a protest, and in Marikina City where police broke up a feeding program and handcuffed teachers and jobless drivers who they claimed were holding a protest.

Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro disagreed with the local police action, saying the people did not violate any law. He described the arrest as an overreaction.

In Fairview, an ex-soldier was shot dead by a police officer. In another incident, a foreign national scuffled with a police officer after an argument over the enforcement of a local ordinance on wearing face masks.

There are dozens, hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of different stories of police brutality and over-zealousness in enforcing the social distancing and “stay home” order.

These human rights abuses and violations could be no longer ignored and swept under the rug in the name of fighting a virus. They have become alarming and disturbing, and have raised a red flag in the international community.

For instance, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights office has singled out the Philippines for topping the list of countries around the world with the highest number of people apprehended for violation of curfews and other restrictions.

The Philippines, which boasted of being one of the first countries to impose a lockdown to contain the virus, has the strictest restrictions among 80 countries that imposed lockdowns.

The Duterte administration has actually followed China’s playbook in responding to the pandemic – tight control of the population and suppression of dissent to hijack the narrative of the crisis.

The lockdown has, indeed, helped in slowing down virus transmission but at the expense of curtailing civil rights and ruining the economy. This was because the government did not prepare well ahead of time when the first case appeared in late January.

For almost a month, from February to early March when there were no reported infections in the country, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III patted his own back and announced the Philippines as a model for containment.

He could have used the time to procure test kits, accredit laboratories and prepare large isolation areas, all of which were done only after former generals took over the government’s response in late March.

Duterte had to call in the same team that helped him quash the pro-Islamic State militants’ rebellion in Marawi City in 2017. Ex-generals Delfin Lorenzana, Eduardo Año, Rolando Bautista and Carlito Galvez were all part of the team that defeated the Islamists, a different virus that threatened peace and stability in the Muslim region in the south.

Now, they are battling an unseen enemy but employing the same military tactics of wiping out an insurgency – “Clear, Hold, Consolidate and Develop” – developed under former president Fidel Ramos.

The current strategy is “Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate,” an almost similar four-phased action to defeat the coronavirus, but a whole-of-nation approach is required for the response to succeed.

For this approach to succeed, two more things are needed — a clear and effective strategic communication plan and public cooperation — which can be achieved not only by public information but by respecting and upholding civil and human rights.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque must stop putting a spin to his almost daily news briefings and the presidential communications office must crack down on false information in social media and those that spread propaganda and hate messages.

Government must not muzzle public opinion criticizing its response, which it could actually use as a feedback mechanism and a gauge of the efficacy of its efforts to cope with the pandemic.

The move by a labor official to suppress dissent and attempt to deport a caregiver in Taiwan is a step in a wrong direction.

The government does not need to hear only praises for its actions. The public has already had enough of the adulation to the president from his Cabinet members during televised meetings, which are heavily edited and broadcast hours later when Filipinos are already in bed.

More than six weeks into the lockdown, the people do not need propaganda and spin from the spokesman. They need government to be more transparent. They need truthful and more straight forward information.

But more important, government must not suppress dissent, respect and uphold basic human rights and show more compassion to the poor families who are the hardest hit in the crisis.