President Rodrigo Duterte warned local government units (LGUs) to follow the national government’s rules for the month-long lockdown in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), saying they will face charges should they go beyond the guidelines set.
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“We are in a critical time…Now I call [upon] LGUs. The national government needs your help during this time, but I want to tell you: Do not make this quarantine more difficult for our people than it already is,” the President said in a televised speech early Friday dawn.
“Let me make this clear. You are not separate republics. There is only one republic here, the Republic of the Philippines. And therefore, you should abide by the directives of the national government… [A]bide by the directives of the whole for the good of the country and the protocols observed during the time of the lockdown,” he said.
He said “wayward” officials should follow what the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has set.
“Let me be clear to everyone. When the IATF says: ‘Do not restrict the flow of cargo of whatever type,’ then no LGU should say that they only follow or allow food or essential goods to come in. You are setting already your standards, and making this quarantine more difficult for all,” the President said.
“I am ordering all LGUs that are doing this to stand down, and to abide by the directives of the IATF… Make sure that what the IATF says should be closed, [are] closed, and those that should be open, stay open. If you go beyond the standards that we have set, you are abusing your authority…Criminal cases cannot be far behind.”
“I am therefore directing the DILG and DOJ to closely monitor the compliance of LGUs with the directives of the office and to file the necessary cases against wayward officials,” the President added.
Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo reminded local government executives that the country is under a national emergency and that they should follow what the national government says.
“The President said you have to follow the guidelines. You cannot go beyond the guidelines. It is not the time to do things your way,” Panelo said.
The President also expressed confidence that the strict implementation of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon would “effectively kill” COVID-19.
Duterte said the situation may be difficult now for the people from Luzon, but “placing the entire island under enhanced community quarantine is the only way to step up the government’s battle against COVID-19 that continues to plague the country.”
He allayed public concerns, saying that the Philippines is not the only country that has imposed an enhanced community quarantine, which similar to total lockdown.
The President also assured the public that those living in Luzon could still enjoy their freedom because one member of each household is allowed to go outside of their homes when they need to buy basic necessities.
The President said he had received reports that several LGUs were implementing the enhanced community quarantine in different ways, and, in some cases, contrary to the directives of the national government.
“In the coming days, we will need the help of the LGUs more and more. So I want to make this clear early on. Let us work together to implement this quarantine, but it should all begin with LGUs making sure that their actions are consistent with national directives,” he said.
“To do otherwise sows confusion. All over the world, there is confusion already because of these lockdowns. We are not alone. But let our country lead the way in imposing a lockdown that is strict enough to effectively kill COVID-19, liberal enough so that our people will not die of hunger, and orderly enough so that our country will not be driven towards chaos during this difficult time.”
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Friday said the President, as a former mayor, recognizes that all LGU chief executives have a mandate and a responsibility to their constituents.
“But as he pointed out last night, the COVID-19 outbreak is an emergency of national proportions that requires a coordinated and national response––so it is the national government that is taking the lead in formulating the policies and regulations to be applied in our efforts to contain COVID-19,” the Palace official said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said local government units have no power to suspend international and domestic flights despite health threats from COVID-19.
At a press briefing, Año said there must be coordination between LGUs and the national government.
“There must be a dialogue and there must be an agreement… [or] you’ll find a lot of people stranded because some LGU officials suddenly declare[s] that domestic flights in their respective areas are already canceled,” he said.
Año’s statement came after Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter, suspended all air travel to and from Davao City effective immediately to contain the spread of the disease in her area.
The mayor said the suspension would last until the state of public health emergency in the Philippines has been lifted.
Cebu province has also suspended all flights from Cagayan de Oro City, Clark International Airport, Dumaguete City, and Legazpi City by virtue of an executive order signed by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia on Saturday, March 14.
The order bans all incoming flights from those areas for 30 days.
Taguig City Mayor Lino Edgardo Cayetano, meanwhile, reprimanded two barangay leaders for not following protocols imposed by the city government.
The failure of the chairpersons of barangays Tanyag and Pinagsama prompted the city government to take over quarantine operations and the distribution of food packs in those communities.
With 15 new cases reported by the Department of Health as of 4 p.m. Thursday, the Philippines now has 217 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Cayetano said there were two new cases of COVID-19 in Taguig, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the city to seven. He added all these cases are confined in hospitals, and treated in isolated facilities.
To avoid people congregating at health centers and risking COVID-19 transmission, the city government has decided to activate medical teams wearing personal protective equipment that would conduct door-to-door services.
“The teams go door to door to conduct immunization; distribution of maintenance medications for diabetes, hypertension and asthma; delivery of medication for tuberculosis and HIV, and vitamins for pregnant women, as well as reproductive commodities,” he added.
The city is continuing relief operations to help households meet their basic food requirements.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Friday urged local government units to introduce clear, definitive guidelines in addressing the plight of the homeless during the Luzon-wide lockdown.
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Gatchalian said homeless people live in environments where they have little access to facilities for basic hygiene, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and making it difficult to realistically self-isolate from anyone who might be carrying the virus. He says this in itself is already a violation of the government’s social distancing policy.
LGUs should have the discretion on how to handle the cases of the homeless as Gatchalian said it is crucial that they seek out those who have no shelter, put them under a decent roof, and help them gain access to health care services. Food and hygiene kits should also be distributed, he added.
“How can they self-quarantine if they have no place to live and stay apart from the others?” asked Gatchalian.
One step to reduce homelessness nationwide is the establishment of a nursing home for abandoned and homeless senior citizens in every LGU, Gatchalian said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development to start distributing food to those who need this most like those who are under “no work no pay” arrangements and the unemployed.
He said the homeless just walking around the streets are also potential carriers of the virus, hence, the DSWD should take care of the homeless people by housing them.
“This is clearly within the mandate of the DSWD which they have not been fulfilling for the longest time,” he added.
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