Back to ECQ? âWe no longer have moneyâ
President Duterte addresses the public following a meeting with the IATF at Malacañang the other night.
Michael Varcas
Back to ECQ? ‘We no longer have money’
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government cannot afford to enforce another lockdown in Metro Manila, as resources are no longer enough to provide food and financial aid to affected communities, President Duterte said.

The government’s pandemic task force has tightened the quarantine status of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal from general community quarantine (GCQ) to the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ). The new status takes effect today until Aug. 18. The move was largely in response to pleas from “burned out” doctors and health workers that they be allowed a “timeout,” so they could refresh and deal more effectively with rising cases of COVID-19 infection. The medical community had requested for the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“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 late 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 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 move,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the chamber is suspending session for the next two weeks in solidarity with the health workers.

“But I can call for a session anytime before Aug. 18 if there is an urgent and great need for it,” he said.

Courts in areas covered by the MECQ – including the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals – will also be physically closed, based on an administrative circular issued by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.

Some Roman Catholic dioceses have also suspended physical celebration of masses.

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 yesterday.

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.

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.

Checkpoints tightened

With Metro Manila and nearby provinces under MECQ, more police checkpoints would be set up near borders to restrict movement of people between cities and neighboring regions, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.

“This is for us to check citizens who have been used to making up excuses to cross borders during the general community quarantine (GCQ)… because of this, we have returned to our previous situation in order for us to control the spread of the virus,” PNP deputy chief for operations Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said in an interview over Teleradyo.

Eleazar said “authorized persons outside of residence” or APORs would still be able to cross borders.

PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa has ordered the release of guidelines for stricter lockdown protocols for all police units in regions under MECQ.

“While quarantine passes are still being processed for citizens, the PNP, through checkpoints, would be checking APORs who would be crossing borders. Those seeking to buy necessities should not cross borders of municipalities and cities,” Eleazar added.

MECQ, the second strictest lockdown level, bans mass transportation – except bicycles, motorcycles and e-scooters. The recently implemented back-riding protocols have also been suspended in MECQ areas. Tricycles would either be banned or restricted, depending on guidelines issued by concerned local government units (LGUs). Company shuttles would be allowed with passenger capacity of only 50 percent.

Domestic flights in and out of Manila are also temporarily suspended during the MECQ, according to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

Sen. Bong Go said the IATF and the NTF should strictly implement necessary measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. In particular, he recommended that LGUs intensify the localized lockdown strategy and implement Oplan Kalinga to help health workers trace coronavirus cases.

“We should also strictly enforce guidelines for minimum health standards and provide free masks for the poor, “ Go said, adding that “buying locally made masks can save or even create jobs, while providing the right kind of masks to those who cannot afford their own will help save lives.”

“Even if we want to see the economy reopen, we need to strengthen rules that can help us protect lives. The life and well-being of every Filipino should be our paramount concern,” he said in Filipino.

Go appealed to the general public to cooperate and strictly follow health and safety protocols, keeping in mind that compliance can save lives.

“The fight against this pandemic begins in us and in our homes. It all starts by properly wearing the right face masks, observing physical distancing and proper hygiene and avoiding non-essential travels,” he said.

“We all wish to see this crisis end. But this will not be possible if we don’t show compassion to others. If it’s not urgent, let’s avoid travelling or assembling in public places,” Go said.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the re-imposition of a stricter lockdown may slow down economic recovery, but ultimately will benefit the country in the long run if properly used to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

“In the short run, the return to MECQ may negatively affect livelihoods, consumer demand and production. However, if the time is used to boost all our medical resources and to prevent further spread of the virus, then the MECQ will be positive for the long haul,” Dominguez said.

While Metro Manila and nearby provinces have reverted back to MECQ, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said there is no need for consumers to resort to panic buying.

“We have over two months of finished goods inventory of almost all basic products and raw materials of even more than three months supply. So, there is no need for the public to worry,” Lopez said.

Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said the private sector supports the latest quarantine restrictions but acknowledges the new challenges confronting the economy.

“We understand the plight of the healthcare workers and medical groups who are at the frontlines of this disease and commit to fully support them with all the means at our disposal,” he said. – Neil Jayson Servallos, Paolo Romero, Louella Desiderio, Mary Grace Padin, Evelyn Macairan, Richmond Mercurio

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