Duterte addresses nation anew, officials clarify enhanced community quarantine guidelines

Following an initial announcement by Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed that the entire Luzon will be under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) from March 17 until April 13. The new regulations aim to restrict the movement of people in the hopes of slowing down the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As of press time, there are already 142 confirmed cases and 12 deaths in the Philippines.

Assigning roles 

Amid a public health emergency, Duterte gave new statements in a recorded national address. He announced that local government units (LGU) will be allowed to directly issue executive orders to make the environment of their municipality “more conducive to a healing process.” 

Para wala masyadong ruckus, walang debate, mayor lang muna, and he can come up with any measure to protect public health, public interest, public order, public safety, and whatever is needed to make life more liveable,” he stated. 

(So as not to cause much ruckus or debate, the mayors [will be placed in charge] for now.)

Duterte also called on barangay captains, “If you are afraid to die of COVID-19, then you have no business being a barangay captain.” He reiterated their obligation to look over the welfare of their constituents, especially with providing food. 

The president maintained that his general rule for the citizens is to obey police and military personnel. “Remember, this is an emergency. During an emergency, tumabi kayong lahat and give way to the people who are responsible for protecting the country, alleviating the suffering, and enforcing public order,” he stressed.

(During an emergency, everyone should step aside.)

Duterte assured the public, “We shall make sure that during these times all of you will feel government concern.”

Businesses, employees affected

The public and private sectors will now follow a work from home scheme. Exemptions will be made for certain workers, such as those involved in health and emergency frontline services, media personnel, and members of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

However, Duterte appealed to business owners to consider providing their affected employees with a prorated 13th-month pay during this time of crisis. “You might be able to alleviate the situation by just understanding the plight of the workers who are not working now. If you’d like to help, kindly tumulong na kayo,” Duterte urged.

(If you’d like to help, kindly extend assistance.)

Meanwhile, private establishments like malls will remain closed. Only those providing basic necessities and involved in food and medicine production will be allowed to operate, such as supermarkets and pharmacies. These establishments must comply with social distancing measures and maintain only a skeletal workforce.

All forms of public transportation will also be suspended, including ride-hailing services like Grab and Angkas. 

Task force clarifies new guidelines

Following Duterte’s address, cabinet members faced the press to clarify and answer questions about the ECQ regulations. Present for the conference were Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Cabinet Secretary and newly-appointed Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Spokesperson Karlo Nograles, and Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III. 

On the transportation ban, Nograles emphasized that “the idea is to keep everybody on home quarantine.” He also told quarantined residents to refrain from looking for reasons to go out, advising that “in case of doubt, stay at home.”

A number of public utility vehicles will be permitted to help LGUs provide transportation for workers exempted from the work ban. “We don’t want to open all public transportation because that will actually encourage people to move. Our objective is to restrict [the] movement of people to the maximum,” Nograles asserted. He later noted that by March 18, Business Process Outsourcing companies will be required to provide employees with temporary accommodations to operate.

Food establishments and restaurants are now forbidden to host dine-in customers and will only open for food preparation and delivery operations, with only the establishments themselves being allowed to actually deliver orders. Food delivery services such as GrabFood and FoodPanda have also been suspended.

Nograles clarified that IATF has not used and will not use the term “lockdown” because it is a technical term not fit for a public health emergency. He also reiterated that the IATF holds meetings daily to assess numbers and situations to make adjustments accordingly.

Guevarra cited that police and military personnel may arrest violators for multiple reasons, such as resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or direct assault; non-cooperation of people “identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern”; and the violation of the “Quarantine Act of 2004” which vests the DOH the power to enforce quarantine regulations, such as inspecting vehicles, in times of public health emergencies.

Nograles noted that the ECQ’s duration can still be shortened “if the circumstances warrant”, but it can also be extended based on their daily assessments. In effect, the ECQ’s “strict home quarantine” supersedes the local curfews that were recently introduced in Metro Manila. “24-hour curfew na ito, because the general rule is [to] stay at home,” Nograles explained. 

As an added measure to contain the pandemic, the Lung Center of the Philippines is being eyed as an option to be converted into a COVID-19 hospital. While the plan is “conceptually okay”, according to Duque, the implementation has to be reviewed further due to non-COVID-19 patients presently admitted in the said health center. For the local level, Año mentioned that LGUs are urged to identify and set up isolation units for asymptomatic patients.

Nograles begged for patience with the quarantine measures, saying, “Kailangan nating striktohan ang lahat ng mga ito; otherwise, kung magbibigay tayo puros ng mga exemptions, babalik rin po tayo sa maraming galawan.”

(We need strict implementation of these; otherwise, if we constantly give exemptions, then we would just return to the high amount of mobility and interaction [that we want to prevent].)

Update: March 17, 2020. 2:38 pm

The article has been updated to reflect a new announcement made by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez at 1:30 pm on March 17 concerning allowable operations of food delivery services. This came after the IATF previously declared that such services would be suspended in line with the enhanced community quarantine.

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