Duterte OKs one-seat apart setup on public transpo

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Duterte OKs one-seat apart setup on public transpo
An airconditioned bus offers free rides to commuters along Commonwealth Ave. on the second day of general community quarantine in Metro Manila.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte and the coronavirus task force have approved a new one-seat-apart rule on public transportation, his spokesperson said Tuesday. 

Speaking at a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the approval was "unanimous" among Cabinet officials at their meeting the night before. 

"The Cabinet approved all recommendations of the economic cluster... We really needed to reopen the economy because lockdowns caused poverty and malnutrition among our children," he said. 

"I'm sure [the Department of Transportation] will issue guidelines. One seat apart is one seat apart."

As it stands, a one-meter physical distancing is observed on public transportation. 

READ: Business chamber bats for 80% public transport capacity

Roque added that this was among other proposals made by the economic cluster approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

According to Roque at his press briefing, the cluster's recommendations also include gradually increasing capacity or "allow[ing] seating together with a plastic barrier or UV light."

The cluster also called for the government to accelerate the use of service contracting to expand bus and jeep capacity, expand rail capacity to 30 to 50%, expand provincial buses, motorcycle taxis, shuttles and transport network vehicle services.

In his presentation, Roque also said that the IATF approved proposals for more restrictions and the observance of the healthcare "seven commandments" on public transportation prescribed by experts, namely: 

  1. Wearing of proper face masks
  2. Wearing of face shields
  3. No talking and no eating
  4. Adequate ventilation
  5. Frequent and proper disinfection
  6. No symptomatic passengers
  7. Appropriate physical distancing

'Reduced physical distancing'

This comes a month after the Department of Transportation called for reduced physical distancing and relaxed health protocols on public transportation to allow for increased capacity. 

DOTr said that this was in response to public calls for more public transportation options amid the coronavirus pandemic, though the calls were actually for more traditional public utility vehicles to be allowed to ply their routes once more.

After spawning public furor, the department then took back the decision after no less than the Department of Health questioned its safety. 

At the time, research non-government organization Action for Economic Reforms said in a statement: "We acknowledge that there is a need to open the economy. The lack of public transport must be addressed in order for people to be able to work and provide for their families. However, the loosening of physical distancing endangers the lives of commuters and risks the resurgence of cases, thus undermining the goal of recovering the economy."

RELATED: Doubt remains as experts back distancing reduction on public transport

On Tuesday morning, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board also opened 44 additional routes of the traditional public utility jeepney and allowed 4,820 more traditional PUJ units to ply their routes in Metro Manila.

However, the total figure is still just a fraction of the estimated 74,000 traditional jeepneys left idled—leaving just 37% of drivers and operators with a livelihood, despite showing a significant increase from just 17% in late August, months after the general community quarantine was hoisted in June. 

"What we're asking for is for 100% of [traditional jeepneys] to be able to ride again and serve the public and help lift the economy of our country. We want drivers and operators to have a livelihood again and for the public to have rides going to work again, and we want the drivers to be given their aid," Piston president Mody Floranda said in Filipino in an earlier text message to Philstar.com

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