Duterte rules: Keep distance
(The Freeman) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to maintain the one-meter physical distancing required on public transportation, Malacañang announced on Saturday morning.

“Ang desisyon po ng Presidente, mananatili po ang one-meter social distancing sa pampublikong transportasyon,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Saturday.

(The decision of the president is to retain the one-meter social distancing in public transportation.)

This comes after think tanks and civil society groups appealed for the president to retain the one-meter distancing instead of the reduced 0.75 meters pushed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

Under the new measures that were supposed to take effect earlier this week, the social distance requirement would be reduced further to a mere .30 meters by the first half of October.

The transportation department began implementing the reduced distancing policy on Monday, but the president raised on the same day health experts' concerns that this could lead to increased transmission of COVID-19.

While the Cabinet was divided on the matter, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año advised against reducing the distancing to 0.75 meters for the same reason.

The DOTr has since issued an official statement assuring compliance with Duterte's decision.

"The president has spoken. We shall aggressively comply and strictly enforce the 1-meter physical distancing in all public transport as envisioned and mandated," it said.

For its part, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is set to issue new guidelines for the implementation of the strict one-meter distancing inside all public utility vehicles.

Currently, all PUVs are allowed to carry a maximum of 50 percent its capacity but this may be revised and further reduced with the strict one-meter distance policy.

PUVs are implementing a one-seat apart guideline, but this does not fully adhere to the new “non-negotiable” government policy and would need to be adjusted.

Transport Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran said that distancing will now be based strictly on distance instead of carrying capacity by the PUV.

“According to various experts, one-meter distancing is non-negotiable. Walang sense kung hahayaan nating one-seat apart lang sa PUVs pero sa tren at barko 1-meter physical distancing,” she told reporters.

The LTFRB had just released a memorandum circular last week adjusting the social distancing requirements for PUVs and shuttle services.

This memorandum circular would now be revoked and revised to stick with Duterte’s orders.

Duterte’s final order came after internal squabbles by Cabinet officials who had differing opinions on the more lenient measure.

While the strict-one meter distancing would ensure better health safeguards, it would also put into question the viability of operations of PUVs.

The land transport sector has been one of the hardest hit in the pandemic, following full shutdown of the mass transport system in March.

Just this Friday, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella who also opposed the DOTr proposal directed the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) and the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) to continue implementing the one-meter distance rule, as well as other health protocols such as wearing of mask and face shield.

The one-meter distance at PUVs is the standard set by the World Health Organization. Other countries even require a distance of up to two meters.

Labella said reducing the distance between commuters in public vehicles is a real risk.

"If we reduce the distance between two people, especially inside a public utility vehicle, we are really doomed to, you know, create a surge again kay importante, the farther they stay the distance, the lesser chances of the virus from being transmitted so nganong ato mang usbon?" he said. - Philippine Star News (FREEMAN)

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