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IATF updates guidelines amid Luzon-wide quarantine concerns

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), during a press conference last March 18, released new guidelines for the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) on the entirety of Luzon in response to the growing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The issuance was made on the first day of the effectivity of the Luzon-wide lockdown, which was met with several concerns and complaints from affected sectors.

During the forum, the panel also addressed questions on its plans to provide public services and welfare. Authorities previously faced public backlash after initial guidelines proved troublesome to enforce.

Stranded on the ground

The start of the intensified containment measure on 12:01 am of March 17, after its announcement just hours prior, was marked by the closing of city borders, stranding many homebound employees, some of whom were soon allowed by President Rodrigo Duterte to pass through.

With the suspension of mass transportation, healthcare professionals and skeleton workforce personnel, who still needed to go to work, found themselves unable to get a ride amid the absence of public utility vehicles (PUV), forcing others to walk.

The scheme was also a problem for daily wage earners like taxi drivers and vendors who had difficulty obtaining income without their usual means.

Meanwhile, the impending cancellation of international trips prompted outbound nationals to flock to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where they were met with limited seat availability and rebooking fees of up to USD 2,000. The IATF eventually decided to lift the suspension, allowing foreigners and Overseas Filipino Workers to fly out despite quarantine measures. Only Filipino tourists were barred from booking flights.

Assistance to workers, frontliners 

Following the mobility woes of the PUV shutdown, the Department of Transportation and local government units (LGUs) started to provide point-to-point transport services to health workers. Prior to the announcement, the Office of the Vice President and several LGUs have already said they will be offering similar amenities.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will continue facilitating its Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program, which is intended to provide emergency employment to informal laborers affected by the pandemic.

DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III bared the details of the initiative. “‘Pag ikaw ay isang informal worker…at mawalan ka ng trabaho dahil dito sa enhanced community quarantine, bibigyan ka namin (the government) ng trabaho…Ang trabaho na ibibigay namin sa iyo ay ‘yung to disinfect [houses],” he explained, adding that the job is to be paid at the minimum wage level and is also open to formal workers.

(If you are an informal worker…and you lose your job because of the enhanced community quarantine, the government will give you a job…The job we will give you is to disinfect houses.)

Earlier that day, DOLE also revealed that they will provide 250,000 employees with P5,000 each under the department’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program.

In addition, Nograles stated that a separate technical working group shall be formed to operationalize DOLE’s Social Amelioration Program—a welfare program that provides cash benefits to sugar farmers in proportion to their work. He admitted, however, that the details of the move are still to be ironed out.

Work arrangements

Bello clarified policies on employees’ leaves and absences, reiterating that they are excused from work, as they are under enhanced community quarantine. While he admitted that employers have the discretion to count the suspension as part of the allotted furloughs of their staff members, he assured that DOLE can subsidize leaves of absence. “Kapag ubos mo na ang leave credits mo, at pinag-14-day self-quarantine ka ng employer mo, kami na, ang DOLE na ang magbabayad nung 14 days mo [on quarantine],” Bello noted.

(If you have already run out of leave credits, and your employer asks you to go on a 14-day self-quarantine, we, DOLE, will pay for your 14-day quarantine.)

The Labor chief also affirmed that people can choose not to report to work even if their bosses still require them to. He added that their absences will be excused and will not be used as a basis for disciplinary action. Employers who refuse to acknowledge this may be reported to DOLE, he maintained.

Capital markets reopen, hotels close

Capital markets, on the other hand, will reopen on March 19, after being ordered shut down two days ago as stock markets went into a series of freefalls in the face of the crisis. Due to reopen are the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Philippine Stock Exchange, the Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corporation, the Philippine Security Settlement Corporation, and the Philippine Depository and Trust Corporation.

Hotels and other public lodging establishments are forced to suspend their operations in Luzon, with the exemption of such establishments with guests that have existing long-term leases and those with accommodations for foreigners as of March 17, 2020. Hotels can also no longer accept new bookings until further notice.

Nograles reiterated that Filipinos must stay at home for the sake of their and the public’s health, expressing, “Ang [mga] buhay po natin ang nakasalalay dito…Ang pinakamaiging pagkontrol po natin sa virus na ito is stay at home talaga…Bahay muna, buhay muna.

(Our lives are on the line here…Our best way of controlling this virus is really to stay at home…Homes first. Lives first.)

Putting the new IATF-issued policies into simpler terms, a bulletin approved by Duterte was released last March 18, outlining the “basic do’s and don’ts” during the implementation of the ECQ.

By Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

By Helen Saudi

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