Duterte: No money for food, aid if Enhanced Community Quarantine declared

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte: No money for food, aid if Enhanced Community Quarantine declared
Fire volunteers from the local government spray disinfectant on houses at Barangfay Villa Maria Clara in Quezon City on Maundy Thursday as a continued effort against the spread of the COVID-19.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The government cannot afford to impose a lockdown in Metro Manila as it does not have enough resources to provide food and financial aid to affected communities, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

The government's pandemic task force has tightened quarantine measures in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, placing them from general communtity quarantine (GCQ) to the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from August 4 to 18 to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The decision was made in response to the call of a group of medical frontliners to place Mega Manila, composed of Metro Manila, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, and MIMAROPA regions, under the strictest lockdown scenario for two weeks.

In a letter to Duterte, the Philippine College of Physicians said health workers are already "burnt out" with the seemingly endless number of patients trooping hospitals and the two-week "time-out" can be used to refine the pandemic response.

The group's request was only granted partially as Metro Manila and the four provinces were only placed under MECQ, not the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), wherein only essential sectors and selected businesses can operate. The decision also did not cover the entire Mega Manila.

"We are doing our very best and (we have the) localized lockdown. I’m sorry Manila. Ngayon you may say, 'Place Manila under lockdown, also other places, the entire Philippines so nobody would catch the virus.' The problem is we no longer have money," Duterte said in a televised address on Sunday.

"I cannot give food anymore and money to people. So I have to… So that’s modified (enhanced community quarantine) especially for critical industries. Food, number one, medicines...First, they have nothing to eat. Only a few people have savings good for...a rainy day? Well our savings is just good for a drizzle," he added.

Duterte said quarantine measures should be strictly implemented at the local level to limit the movement of people.  

"Now, also mga barangay captains, it’s time that you really work. bring back the honor given to you by the people. You work. Strictly enforce ang quarantine, especially the lockdown," the President said.

"It behooves upon the barangay captain, municipal mayor, to see to it that, if possible, your barangay or munisipyo, city is COVID-free. Well, some mayors are overly strict. We can't do anything about that because under the Local Government Code, they ought to really also to move," he added.

Winning the war?

Officials claimed that their decision to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under MECQ does not mean that the Philippines is losing the war against COVID-19.

"As long as we have a low mortality rate, we are doing what is right. I think we are heading towards the right direction when we place some areas under MECQ," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing Monday.  

Roque said the tighter quarantine measures would lower the reproduction rate of the virus and lengthen the case doubling rate. The government, Roque added, is also working to increase the health capacity of hospitals.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said efforts are underway to ensure patients' access to hospitals, expand testing, and strengthen tracing and isolation of patients.

"So if you are asking if we are winning, we are really managing this and we are preparing our system so we can accommodate more patients and therefore we can appropriately address the situation," she said.

Carlito Galvez, Jr. chief implementer of the COVID-19 national policy, said the Philippines is on the "critical phase" of the management of the pandemic, citing the supposed change in the behavior of the virus.

"And even other countries are really groping for answers because even those who are already in the new normal,  for example Australia and even Vietnam, they imposed restrictions, again they go back to some lockdowns," Galvez said.

To better manage the infections, Roque said the government has adopted a seven-point response namely hiring of additional health workers, providing health workers with risk allowance and free rides, issuance of quarantine passes to limit the movement of people, intensified lockdowns, distribution of 20 million face masks and the use of RT-PCR testing as gold standard for COVID-19 detection.

Lockdown aid

Roque said the giving of financial aid to households affected by the implementation of MECQ lies with Congress.

"Perhaps it will be included in the Bayanihan 2 (bill) because the aid we distributed previously was in line with a law. According to the Constitution, we cannot spend government funds without legislation," the Palace spokesman said.

Roque expressed confidence that local governments are also ready to provide assistance to their constituents who were sidelined by the lockdown.

"We will look at the capability of DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) to provide aid to the affected areas," he added.

"Even before we made the decision on MECQ, we had a consultation with the Metro Manila mayors and they know our fund limitations. But everyone is ready to look for the funds...because while we are under MECQ, most of our countrymen cannot go to work," he added. 

The government allotted more than P200 billion in emergency aid to displaced workers and poor households under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. 

No panic buying

Roque also assured the public that there is enough supply of essential goods in the market.

"There is no reason for you to engage in panic buying. The restrictions were made in response to the request of frontliners who need a break. That means we did not really plan to impose a lockdown. We have enough supply," the Palace spokesman said.

"Our supply has been delivered to supermarkets and a higher demand has been anticipated... Do not worry. Had we pushed through with the original plan, we would just impose localized lockdowns. Our supermarkets are ready for the huge demand," he added. 

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