Selected MM areas to stay under ECQ?
I DROPPED my plan to file a newsy column by waiting for President Duterte’s latest announcement, set yesterday, of what coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine measures will be adopted after May 15 in Metro Manila and other areas under lockdown.
In previous weeks, waiting for the President’s televised reports (whose broadcast time was unpredictable) upset my writing schedule. This time, I decided to spare myself that ordeal akin to walking a tightrope while typing an opinion piece.
Anyway, whatever is said in media or other channels used to convey public opinion to the government has grown largely irrelevant. Duterte simply proceeds according to his personal agenda and the inputs of his tight coterie of advisers.
We often get the impression that many actions of the administration are guided by considerations of public relations (PR) and not public welfare.
Even if we miss Duterte’s TV reports, we can still see his general direction from the well-publicized actions of his operators on the ground and their unguarded chatter in the air. Politicians are among the easiest public persons to cover and to second-guess.
We have been confined to our houses, thus prevented from witnessing the scale of police suppression. But the news media, especially television, have given us graphic views of “martial law-like” oppression and cruelty in the name of fighting the coronavirus.
When the police no longer care being video-recorded beating up citizens, sometimes even shooting them, for breaking quarantine rules, something is seriously wrong — with them, with us, or the system.
As early as March 24, we asked in this space “Who’ll starve first: The virus or its host?” We noted: “It looks like we Filipinos are running a starvation race with the coronavirus” that at that time had killed 25 out of 380 known local victims. (The toll has risen to 726 killed out of 11,086 infected as of yesterday.) See https://tinyurl.com/t28fzqs
We have witnessed since then, thanks to television (including the ABS-CBN network before it was shut down), videos of Filipinos stripped of their dignity begging for food and emerging from their shacks to line up like beggars for “ayuda” from the government.
As of yesterday, nine out of every 10 families listed to receive cash assistance under the first tranche of aid to those badly hit by the lockdown have received their share, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said 1,265 of the 1,634 local governments in the country, or 77 percent, met the distribution deadline that had been extended to Sunday, May 10.
After enduring forced confinement at home and the loss of jobs or their sole means of livelihood, will the beneficiaries consider their receiving the cash aid satisfactory payment for the misgovernment, if not blatant abuse, that they have had to suffer?
The big question in the public mind is what will happen after May 15 to the COVID quarantine that has been enforced in varying degrees of severity in various places.
The Metro Manila Council composed of 17 mayors in the national capital region has submitted three scenarios to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to choose from:
*Extend Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for two more weeks, from May 16 to 30.
*Lift ECQ and implement General Community Quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila.
*Modified GCQ, where local governments are allowed to impose a lockdown on a specific barangay or zone if needed.
Sources at MMDA said only five of the 17 Metro Manila mayors favored GCQ: Joy Belmonte (Quezon City), Abby Binay (Makati), Isko Moreno (Manila), Imelda Aguilar (Las Piñas), and LenLen Oreta (Malabon).
A study conducted by University of the Philippines professors and OCTA research fellows using mathematical scenarios has projected that thousands more would die in Metro Manila if the ECQ in the area were lifted prematurely.
But word from Malacañang has it that despite a desire to relax the two-month old lockdown to allow people to attend to their needs, and to restart economic activities, some still unspecified areas in the national capital are likely to remain under ECQ after May 15.
The task force on the COVID-19 pandemic was scheduled to meet yesterday morning to finalize its recommendations before the President reports to the nation.
Metro Manila has been under ECQ since March 17, a lockdown that has been extended twice and is to last until May 15. The metropolis is of special attention because it harbors a dense population of 12 million and contributes more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product.
Other ECQ areas awaiting the decision of the President are Central Luzon (except Aurora province), Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon), Pangasinan, Benguet, Albay, Iloilo (including Iloilo City), Cebu (including Cebu City), Bacolod City, Zamboanga City and Davao City.
Ahead of Duterte’s announcement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said: “It’s not true that all places in Metro Manila will shift to GCQ and it’s also not true that the entire Metro Manila will remain under ECQ. Let’s wait.”
Under ECQ, only essential businesses and services, including those related to food production and health services, are allowed. Public transportation is suspended. In GCQ areas, selected businesses may reopen but observing social distancing and health standards like temperature checks and disinfection of facilities. Some forms of public transportation are allowed but at reduced capacity.
Some officials have said the government favors relaxing quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila areas that have shown a slower rise of coronavirus cases, but that ECQ may have to stay in heavily infected areas.
While awaiting orders, Police Lt. Gen. Gullermo Lorenzo Eleazar, PNP deputy chief for operations, said they will enhance police visibility once Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and other areas transition to GCQ. This includes police presence near commercial establishments and mobile checkpoints on roads.
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