The Energy Department sought the cooperation of local government units to ensure unimpeded delivery of petroleum products amid reports that some deliveries are being held at checkpoints during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We have been receiving reports that delivery of petroleum products are being held and delayed at LGU checkpoints,” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said.
Cusi called on the governors, mayors, barangay captains of LGUs to allow deliveries of petroleum products to pass their jurisdiction on the way to the delivery points.
“This will help assure that the nearby areas will have adequate supply of petroleum products, which is very important to people’s lives and provision of service,” the Energy chief said.
Cusi earlier assured the public of continuous and sufficient oil supply in the National Capital Region during the 30-day ECQ from March 15 to April 14 imposed by the government as part of efforts to contain the spread of the corona virus disease 2019.
“During this most challenging time, it is imperative to ensure the continued supply of fuel products, especially in areas under quarantine. Having sufficient petroleum supply is vital, making it a critical concern amid this crisis. The entire energy family is working 24/7 to make sure that energy services remain unimpeded,” Cusi said.
Based on the agency’s assessment of the country’s oil inventory as of Feb. 29, about 2.7 billion liters of crude and oil products were available equivalent to 45 days of fuel supply.
The department said this indicated that inventory was well supplied for the one-month quarantine period in NCR. The 45-day fuel supply is above the minimum inventory requirement being observed by the oil industry.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, said the government would use a Quick Response (QR)-based pass system at checkpoints to better enforce social distancing and speed the passage of vehicles passing through them.
“The reality is that while the majority of the population remain home during the ECQ, there are still people who need to leave their homes to report for work, such as our health personnel and those working in essential industries,” Nograles said.
“However, the question is, how do we limit contact between exempted individuals and personnel manning our checkpoints? How do we ensure social distancing when individuals must show their IDs and documents?”
He this could be solved by a system where personnel manning checkpoints can use QR scanners on their phones to scan QR codes that will be assigned to authorized individuals.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte urged the Bureau of Customs to immediately release abandoned containers containing food, medical equipment and supplies for use by those affected by the month-long lockdown.
Earlier this week, eight 40-foot abandoned container vans containing medical equipment were immediately released by the Bureau of Customs in Davao, upon the directive of Duterte. The medical equipment was delivered to the Southern Philippines Medical Center, strengthening the fight against the COVID -19 virus.
On Thursday, Duterte asked the Bureau of Customs to check if there are more seized and abandoned shipments that can be further donated to hospitals or the government.
Customs authorities reported that there are about 100 to 300 containers of rice and another 100 to 300 containers of dried fish which can be turned over to the government for donation.
“We will have these turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. But we urge Customs authorities to ease the process so we can distribute these to families as soon as possible. We know that there is a process but this matter should be treated with urgency. We need to feed the people and these could help,” said Duterte.
Also on Friday, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the month-long lockdown would have a minimal impact on the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
While many projects under the program have been interrupted in Luzon, those in the Visayas and Mindanao continue, he said.
He also said projects would be delivered on time, despite the lockdown.
“We are on track. This year is much better compared to last year because projects were only implemented in the second half due to the delay in the passage of the 2019 budget and the ban on public projects due to elections,” Villar said.
Villar said the department is scaling up the conversion of major facilities in Metro Manila and in other parts of the country into instant hospitals to effectively control the spread of COVID-19.
The Rizal Memorial Complex-Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila City, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Forum Halls and the World Trade Center both in Pasay City are being transformed into quarantine sites.
In related developments:
• The Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Friday despite a nationwide suspension on the transport of forest products and wildlife species, steps have been taken to ensure the availability of wood needed for the construction of COVID-19 facilities. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said he has exempted wood pallets, boxes and crates from the suspension. “Considering that these wood-based forest products are used for the transport of food products that are basic requirements during this time of crisis, movement of these should not be restricted,” he added.
• Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he favors extending the current enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to April 30. “We are only beginning to see data of symptoms post-quarantine. And I see some data that shows it is effective. But [it’s] too early to tell. An extra two weeks would help,” Drilon said. But during those two weeks, he noted that the government should ensure food supply and movement of essential goods and services. He said while restrictions could be eased in May, there should be no mass gatherings or travel to and from Luzon.
• The chairman of the House ways and means committee, Albay Rep. Jose Salceda on Friday called for an extension of the ECQ over Luzon, saying that “historical, scientific, and economic evidence points to a more cautious approach to the pandemic is evidence-based, logical, [and] lifesaving.”
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