National government calls the shots in a crisis, not LGUs — Duterte

Franco Luna - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:10 a.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte in a public address on early Friday morning asserted the authority of the national government over local government units in times of crisis.

In his address, the president appealed to local government units to abide by the directives set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Though he did not mention any names, Duterte also warned that noncompliance on the part of local government officials could lead to administrative and even criminal cases filed against erring officials. 

"We are in a critical time [and] the national government needs your help during this time. Do not make this quarantine more difficult for our people than it already is," the chief executive said.

"You are setting your own standards and making this lockdown more difficult for all," he added.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo also wrote in a later statement that "the national government will not countenance such deviation and disobedience. Errant local officials will face administrative sanctions and criminal prosecution,"

"The LGUs’ actions must be in sync and in unison with the national government’s directives in this state of national health emergency and calamity," he added.

LGUs' stricter border guidelines hamper the flow of goods

Though he did not go into naming specific LGUs, the president warned local governments against issuing border restrictions in their cities.

"When the [task force] says do not restrict the flow of cargo of whatever type, then no LGUs should say that they only allow food or essential goods to come in. You are setting your own standards," he said.

The DILG later said that a number of local chief executives have imposed border closure measures beyond task force guidelines, leading to the department issuing them orders not to.

The more stringent border measures imposed by some LGUS led to supply chain problems, the department said.

Duterte backpedals after giving mayors leeway

For all his vigor against unsubmissive local government officials Friday morning, this was in direct contradiction to an earlier remark he made.

In his address on Monday, March 16, the chief executive said mayors can come up with any measure to protect public health, public order and public safety, "as long as they are [made] in good faith."

He also said then that mayors had the power to issue executive orders imposing restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 under a state of public health emergency.

But on Friday's address, he said, "the only reason you can impose these quarantine restrictions is because the national government is allowing you to do so."

“I was a mayor myself, in case you have forgotten, but this is an emergency of national proportion and therefore it is the national government that should call the shots,” Duterte said, urging that all LGUs comply with directives set by the task force behind the government's response to COVID-19. 

"There is only one republic here, and that is the Republic of the Philippines. Therefore you should abide by the directives of the national government."

'Dereliction of duty'

Going off-script once more, Duterte said he felt the situation was no longer "just a quarantine" but rather "already in the stage of a lockdown."

The chief executive has not been shy about threatening local officials with prison time should they not carry out their duties amid the public health emergency.

In both his public addresses, Duterte highlighted the role of barangay officials in checking in with their constituents on the ground. 

"If there is a barangay captain who does not fulfill his duty in going around to find out how citizens are faring, if you are scared of dying of COVID-19, then you have no business being a government official," he said as he declared a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine on Monday. 

During his earlier announcement of community quarantine in Metro Manila, his warnings were especially pointed for erring barangay captains, or those who did not do their jobs, saying, "You will also go to prison for dereliction of duty."

Vico Sotto rejected

Though not explicitly mentioned, Duterte's pronouncements were issued after a brief row between Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and the Department of Interior and Local Government, and later, the Palace.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sotto appealed to the DILG to allow tricycles in their area to operate amid the month-long suspension of public and mass transportation.

Citing Pasig government's assessment, Sotto said prohibiting tricycles to operate does more damage to public health. He explained that residents without COVID-19, especially the elderly, but with existing medical conditions are not able to find transportation to hospitals.

In response, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that Sotto should "be more creative" in his approach to the situation. 

READ: DILG on Vico Sotto's appeal to exempt trikes: Be more creative in dealing with COVID-19

Malacañang also snubbed Sotto's proposal later on, saying that social distancing would not be possible in motorcycles and tricycles.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing means "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible."


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