'NCR Plus' messaging unclear as PNP says tourism allowed, Palace says stay at home
Police and barangay officers man the entry and exit points of Barangay 297 in Manila at Monday midnight, March 22, 2021 after it was placed under a four-day lockdown along with 12 other barangays.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

'NCR Plus' messaging unclear as PNP says tourism allowed, Palace says stay at home

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - March 22, 2021 - 5:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — Mixed messages marked the first day of new proposals to put up the so-called "NCR Plus bubble" in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country. 

In separate pronouncements, officials in different agencies issued conflicting pronouncements on travel restrictions and other prohibitions within the "bubble." 

Speaking at the Laging Handa press briefing Monday morning, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Philippine National Police OIC, said that tourism within the bubble area is allowed regardless of the tighter iteration of general community quarantine, which includes a ban on non-essential travel. 

"The only thing prohibited is for example leaving our bubble...If you are in Manila and you go to Boracay, that will be a problem for us. But within the bubble, we won't be restricting the travel of our kababayan," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"The checkpoints within NCR are not there to restrict movement," he added. 

To illustrate his point, the police general went as far as saying that going to Tagaytay from Metro Manila for a staycation was "technically" not prohibited. 

Despite that, checkpoints were put up and movement was restricted across the boundary between Quezon City and San Mateo, Rizal.

'Not prohibited, but stay at home anyway'

Later in the same briefing, though, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque urged Filipinos to stay at home "without forcing anyone to stay home," saying non-essential travel is "discouraged."  

Roque was careful to point out that the bubble scheme was not a lockdown, as only mobility would be restricted and not the economy. 

Asked why staycations are still allowed in the bubble, Roque said in Filipino: "It's not like they're leaving the bubble...we still want to encourage businesses." 

In a separate statement sent to reporters, Department of the Interior and Local Government OIC Bernardo Florece disclosed that the DILG ordered the national police, one of its attached bureaus, to set up checkpoints along the borders of "bubble" areas "to prevent the entry and exit of non-essential workers and to enforce the uniform curfew hours."

Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, department spokesperson, took a similarly tough stance, calling it a "strict stay-at-home order" in an interview aired over CNN Philippines. 

The Department of Transportation, in its own statement to reporters, said: "Hindi papayagan ang anumang leisure/tourist travels palabas at papasok sa mga GCQ areas."

(No form of leisure or tourist travels going in or out of GCQ areas will be permitted.)

Despite these policies, Roque said, fitness centers and gyms will still be allowed to operate at 75% capacity while personal care services, such as spas, may operate at 50% capacity.

Gov't still scrambling to arrest influx of cases

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the Philippines, critics lambasted the administration's crisis communication with most of its quarantine policies solely dependent on President Rodrigo Duterte's bi-weekly public addresses. 

All this comes as over 10,000 cops have already been deployed around the capital region to enforce curfew hours and quarantine protocols. Over the past week of uniform curfew in Metro Manila, the PNP accosted more than 19,000 quarantine violators—5,300 of whom were arrested. 

READ: In new record high, Philippines reports 8,019 new COVID-19 cases

Health officials recorded 8,019 additional COVID-19 infections later Monday afternoon, bringing the national caseload to 671,792. The number set a record-high in daily coronavirus additions in the country, which has been on lockdown for 370 days—good for the longest quarantine in the world. 

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