Recalibrate quarantine rules
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Finally, on Day-10 we got our “Home Quarantine Pass” given to each household in our village located at one of the enclaves of B.F. Homes in Paranaque City. The issuance of the Home Quarantine Pass per barangay is part of the so-called Enhanced Community Quarantine measures that are being implemented under the Luzon-wide “lockdown.” The “home quarantine” seeks to prevent non-essential movement of people to help stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus 2019, or COVID-19 for short. 

This quarantine pass allows one member of each household to get out to do errands for the family, but limited to allowed activities such as buying food and medicine. In our specific Barangay BF Home Quarantine Pass, it allows holders a period from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. to go outside their houses to do these errands. “Persons caught loitering without pass shall be apprehended,” the Home Quarantine Pass warned in bold letters. 

This is just one version of the quarantine pass that barangay chiefs have been issuing to their respective constituents. And with so many other versions, some of which even impose more restrictions, more than those issued by the national government.   

Invoking his existing powers under our country’s 1987 Constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Luzon island under “lockdown” until April 15 to control the spread of COVID-19. But a number of governors and mayors from various local government units (LGUs) have overstepped the limits of their power based from reports reaching President Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Thus, the President immediately issued a stern warning against reported abuses of LGUs. Citing his own experience as former Mayor of Davao City for several years in the past, the President warned LGU executives to synchronize their anti-COVID measures with the guidelines set forth by the Task Force.

This is not to mention the private sector doing their own anti-COVID-19 rules. Some grocery stores deny entry to shoppers for not wearing face masks which are short in supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It took Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, also the spokesperson of Task Force on COVID-19 to warn against this private imposition.

However, the President apparently has seen the “stringent community quarantine” measures so far enforced in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon were not enough for the government to effectively contain the COVID-19 contagion. In fact, COVID-19 cases have been reported already in Visayas as well in Mindanao.

As of press time yesterday, there were 90 new COVID-positive cases that brought the total to 552 patients. Sadly, two more patients died and raised the number of COVID-related deaths to 35 recorded in the Philippines. For a bit of good news, two more patients added to the total of 20 who recovered from their COVID-19 infection.  

Faced with enormous challenges to address the pandemic COVID-19 infection, President Duterte asked the 18th Congress to grant him “standby” powers and authority “to ensure the survival of the nation” no less. Backed and supported by his administration allies in Congress, the “Bayanihan To Heal As One” Act will become the fastest law ever that passed through legislation. Suspending their respective rules on legislative procedures, the Senators and House leaders debated and voted upon the emergency bill during the “special sessions” called for the speedy passage into law of this COVID-19 emergency measure. 

Since they are also but human who can be infected by COVID-19 infection, our lawmakers made use of modern technology that allowed them tele-conferencing as their own version of “social distancing” precautions. Quite a number of Senators are actually nursing COVID-19 symptoms like Senate majority leader Miguel Zubiri while the others were still under 14-day self-quarantine. At the Lower House, two staffers of congressmen have died of COVID-19 infection.

At the Upper Chamber, Senate president Vicente Sotto III made do with what they can to facilitate their legislative procedures. With only 12 Senators physically present -- although this is already considered a majority vote — the Senate chief approved the motion to allow phoned-in votes for the seven Senators who, for one reason or another cannot be physically present to attend the special sessions. At the end of their voting, a total of 19 Senators voted in favor of the “Bayanihan” Act, with only detained Sen.Leila de Lima not allowed to vote.  

Obviously well-endowed, the House leadership headed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano got the best information technology wonder that facilitated their deliberations. Only 20 House solons led by the Speaker attended the floor deliberations at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City. The 267 other congressmen engaged the House leaders in a virtual parliamentary debate via teleconference from their own safe places in various remote parts of the Philippines. 

After 17 hours, the first ever online special session produced the “Bayanihan” Act with 284 House members voted in favor and only 9 voted “no” to grant special authority  to President Duterte. However, the quality of single legislative output of the Lower House still paled in comparison with the final finished version of the Senate that was eventually adopted.

After marathon sessions of both the Senate and the House of Representatives that started last Monday morning up to wee hours yesterday, the “Bayanihan To Heal As One” Act is now a law by today effective immediately. The enrolled bill was immediately printed and sent to Malacanang for the approval and signature of President Duterte who earlier certified this as very urgent legislative measure.      

With such “special” powers given to President Duterte, is it asking too much to expect much improved living situation while this “lockdown” is in effect for the remaining 20 days ahead? 

The Task Force must go back to their drawing boards now that President Duterte is clothed with “special” standby authority and power to ensure national survival from COVID-19 pandemic. They must review and reassess in what so far they have implemented have worked well and recalibrate those that add miseries to the life of the nation.

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