From ‘Free Willy’ to ‘Freed Harry’
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2020 - 12:00am

Unlike other people who are ready to crucify Secretary Harry Roque or make a sequel to the movie “Free Willy” using Roque’s effigy for “Freed Harry,” I am actually glad that Roque drove out to SBMA and went swimming with the dolphins at a marine leisure park. Why? Because now people can use him as the national excuse to skip out of Metro Manila this weekend to visit their piggery, game farm, vegetable farm or swim with their KOIs in a pond. I pity the PNP personnel at any checkpoint who tries to stop the followers of “Freed Harry,” given the possibility that they could face law suits left and right for selective imposition of community quarantine, not to mention the failure of the PNP to place Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque under arrest for violating said IATF rules! Come to think of it, what’s the status of the Sinas case and can Sec. Roque be charged for swimming with the dolphins during office hours and on a weekday? If Roque ever gets detained, we will certainly have the scenario for “Freed Harry” movie!

While trying to get clarification from SBMA chairperson Amy Eisma on the Roque visit to a marine leisure park, she informed me that under Modified General Community Quarantine hotels and resorts are now allowed to accept walk-in customers. What is not clear is whether those customers are limited only to “local residents” of the same region or province. By profession, Secretary Roque is based in Metro Manila, but is also a resident of Limay, Bataan so he is technically a tourist from the region (yes it’s a stretch). He says he owns a piggery in the area as well. To go to SBMA or Limay, he has to cross the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga. As a government official and spokesperson of the IATF he obviously has an “All Areas Access” pass, IF he is on official business. No argument there. But if he is visiting his piggery that is not official business of the IATF, therefore he should have a Department of Agriculture pass in order to travel. Because of the red tape and lack of information, many people have simply been chancing it and going to their farms and that does not seem to be a problem so far.

In all seriousness, I’m glad that Sec. Roque committed this indiscretion because his actions will now force the IATF to sit down and clarify once and for all what really are the rules regarding mobility or movement into and out of Metro Manila or between GCQ to GCQ areas, GCQ to MGCQ areas, and will also force them to align rules concerning who is allowed to travel in relation to what type of businesses are allowed to open. Perhaps, this will force the IATF to finally study the clamor of people to be allowed to travel “Point to Point” with no intended or unscheduled stopovers along the way, to visit farms and second homes without the need for testing and convoluted documentation. This will also move us toward the more open and relaxed environment that DOF Secretary Sonny Dominguez is pushing for so that the economy can recover faster, and government won’t end up borrowing and giving away billions of pesos in bailouts and doleouts. The sooner we get out the more people will have jobs, income and less dependency on government. Beside which, according to data from UP, when we moved from MECQ to GCQ there were no noticeable increases of COVID-19 cases which shows that Filipinos are well aware of health risks and are very responsible about protocols. Don’t just Free Harry, Free Us too!

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When ASF or the African Swine Fever broke out in other countries especially in China, Philippine authorities said they were keeping a careful watch. Two years later, ASF almost wiped out the hog industry had it not been for the vigilance of the private sector and the drastic containment and eradication program of the Department of Agriculture.  But the fact remains that the gatekeepers did too little and almost too late at the beginning. When the novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan China, elected officials and the media were pressuring the government particularly the DOH to impose a lockdown on all flights and travel between the Philippines and China, particularly to and from Wuhan. The government opted for a “wait and see” approach in order not to offend Chinese officials and cause a diplomatic row. Now the official, but delayed count is 38,511 positive confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines with 1,270 dead Filipinos.

This week, international news media have been reporting about a new strain of swine flu that could become another pandemic because it is one that has been seen as transferring from pigs to humans. What is disturbing is our government’s attitude of “watching.” That is the same thing we said and did with ASF and COVID-19 and look where it got us. We do not have the luxury to watch what happens. Given the double whammy we have been hit with, both coming from China, doesn’t prudence dictate that we should simply BAN all meat imports from China whether fresh or processed? I don’t know if the previous bans have been conditionally lifted, but given the possibility that this new type of swine flu can kill livestock and people, to watch and wait is criminal!

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