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Familiar checkpoints, traffic buildup as Metro Manila preps for third ECQ

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Familiar checkpoints, traffic buildup as Metro Manila preps for third ECQ
Residents of San Jose Del Monte Bulacan and Caloocan go through new long queues at checkpoints on the border that appeared at midnight of Aug. 1, 2021. The San Jose Del Monte's information office only posted the announcement on checkpoints on its social media account at around 8 p.m. of the same day.
John Mark Pineda for Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Enhanced Community Quarantine — for the third time in Metro Manila —isn't here yet, but transport workers and commuters are already beginning to feel the bite. 

Just a week after President Rodrigo Duterte told Congress and the Filipino people that he had "[taken] away the misery of commuting" in the country, Filipinos were greeted with a repeat of a repeat: the transport woes of disjointed quarantine implementation. 

On Friday, ahead of the implementation of ECQ, the Philippine National Police set up "quarantine control points" around the so-called 'NCR Plus' bubble — an ECQ measure that affects public transportation, and consequently, commuters.

The result was the same as in the last two rounds of ECQs: long lines at checkpoints as police sought to verify whether or not each and every motorist is authorized to be outdoors.  During ECQ, only people considered 'APORs' are allowed out.

In this iteration of the Luzon lockdown, only Metro Manila will be placed under ECQ from August 6-20. Other areas in the NCR Plus "bubble" will be under General Community Quarantine "with restrictions."

Speaking in an interview aired over dzBB Super Radyo, Police Lt. Gen. Israel Ephraim Dickson, commander of Joint Task Force COVID Shield, acknowledged the traffic buildup in the morning hours of Monday. 

"There was heavy traffic and we already expected this because there was stricter measure of enforcement. Those who want to go out of Metro Manila, please refrain from leaving your houses unless you are APORs," he said in Filipino. 

According to Dickson, traffic at a checkpoint at the boundary of Caloocan City and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan was backed up for one kilometer when he inspected it. 

Residents of San Jose Del Monte Bulacan and Caloocan go through new long queues at checkpoints on the border that appeared at midnight of Aug. 1, 2021. The San Jose Del Monte's information office only posted the announcement on checkpoints on its social media account at around 8 p.m. of the same day.
John Mark Pineda for Philstar.com

Transport groups wary of third ECQ

This time around, the checkpoints did not stop the drivers and operators of public utility vehicles from plying their routes. 

Dante Lagman, convenor of militant transport group Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Transportasyon, said that while the group did not monitor any untoward effects on transport workers so far, they remained wary of how they will be treated during ECQ. 

"We are demanding for public transport not to be hindered in that period so as not to unduly burden 'essential workers' (which transport workers should be a part of) and expose them to greater risks," he told Philstar.com.

"If not heeded, we plan to have activities to help our members through this period while calling out another failed response."

Primo Morillo, convenor of commuter group The Passenger Forum, said that congestion at borders is due to many workers living farther from Metro Manila where housing is more affordable.  

"In our monitoring, the checkpoints are becoming mass gatherings because they're choke points," he said in Filipino in an online exchange with Philstar.com.

PNP: Better checkpoint 'strategies' against traffic coming Friday

For the PNP's leadership, the short-term answer is patience from the public. 

“As a former commander of the Joint Task Force COVID shield, I saw, based on experience the heavy traffic at border control points with every implementation of strict quarantine rules in Metro Manila so we had strategies to reduce traffic build-up," Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said in Filipino in a statement sent to reporters. 

Eleazar said that the PNP was looking into allowing all vehicles to pass through checkpoints and instead conduct random checks at mobile checkpoints in key areas within Metro Manila.

"I hope to implement [these] especially with the start of ECQ implementation on August 6," Eleazar said as he asked the public for patience with the checkpoints. 

Asked for a reaction on the upcoming plans, Morillo said in Filipino: "These are better plans compared to checking everyone who passes by. We're hoping these are implemented properly and there is no confusion on the ground." 

He added that cops at some checkpoints seem to be carrying out the looser controls, while other checkpoints are still stopping every motorist. 

"We have yet to conclude if this is because of the confusion in implementing the strategy but we are really looking forward to a calibrated strategy for all checkpoints in the implementation of these random checks," he said. 

For now, the PNP chief's promises are hardly a comfort to Filipino commuters, who will have to reckon with the carmaggedon once more for the rest of the week. 

Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya at Monday afternoon's Laging Handa briefing said that once ECQ kicks in on Friday, the quarantine control points bordering the NCR Plus bubble will also be set up within Metro Manila. 

"There are no quarantine control points in Metro Manila, only in the neighboring province. There will only be quarantine control points [inside NCR] when we are in the ECQ," he said. 

"The general rule is to limit human movement. This is for access to essential goods, those who work in the ECQ, or for vaccinations."

ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE PNP
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