INTERIOR Secretary Eduardo Año on Wednesday said the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown, which President Duterte imposed as a strategy to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, may be lifted as scheduled on April 13.
Saying he was satisfied with how local government units have implemented the lockdown order, Año said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) may recommend the relaxation of quarantine regulations after assessing if these have contained or slowed down COVID-19.
“That we have to assess, but we can, of course. But it doesn’t mean that spread has ended. We still have to continue the practice of strict social distancing,” said Año, who is a member of the IATF.
“Our lockdown or enhanced community quarantine is running well. We assessed the performance of our LGUs, we saw they are performing well,” he added.
Eight days after the lockdown took effect midnight of March 17, Año said there is no need, at least for now, to expand the coverage of the ECQ to Visayas and Mindanao. He noted that several local government units in the southern islands have already implemented their own quarantine rules as a safety precaution for their residents.
“As of now, there is no need for it in (the) entire Visayas and Mindanao so that their lives will remain normal, especially jobs and food production. But if there is a necessity and depending on the development, the IATF will assess it,” he said.
Cabinet Secretary and concurrent inter-agency force spokesman Karlo Nograles dismissed the possible expansion of the Luzon-wide lockdown to the rest of the country.
“I think we take one day at a time. It is still too early for that (expansion). Instead of looking at that, I think we just really, really have to concentrate on social distancing and other measures in the guidelines. Let us cooperate. Focus at the task at hand,” Nograles said in mixed English and Filipino.
He added that the IATF is assessing the situation daily and making necessary adjustments in the guidelines when needed.
But while LGUs are hard at work implementing home quarantine rules, Año noted that many residents continue to violate the guidelines “so we need draconian measures to flatten (the curve) so we can contain, if not eliminate, the spread of the virus.”
Año said he has directed the PNP to intensify the conduct of mobile patrols so that unauthorized persons will remain inside their homes.
“This time, we are going to be stricter in the implementation of the home quarantine. We are going to conduct more mobile patrols and we will ensure that people who have no exemptions and have nothing important to do will return to their homes. If they resist, then we will accost and arrest them,” he said.
Under the recently-signed Bayanihan Act of 2020, Año said violators can be imprisoned for two months and fined by as much as P1 million.
On Wednesday, the cities of Pasig and Marikina reported that 10 persons were arrested for violating home quarantine and curfew rules.
Brig Gen. Johnson Almazan, Eastern police district (EPD) director, identified those arrested as Jhaymar Basilio, 18, mechanic and Clarence Genodia, 18, both residing at barangay Tumana Marikina; John Cedric Manuel, 26; Sheryl Estrella, 40, both of barangay San Miguel; Gerald Lotino, 38; his brother Freddie, 24, both of Bambang; Edmund Dela Cruz, 35, of Pinagbuhatan; Reynaldo Binoya, 63, of Pineda; Neptalie Ebio, 33; and Raymart Balesteros, 27, both of Rosario Pasig.
The culprits were arrested in their neighborhoods between 5:45 p.m. to11:50 p.m. Tuesday.
Some were walking without face masks, drinking at public places, or hanging out in the streets.
At the same time, Año warned governors and mayor who may not be following IATF regulations in the implementation of the ECQ in their areas.
“That’s within the power of our President. If a mayor or even a governor abuse his authority or defy an order, we can immediately put him under preventive suspension for 60 days, that’s the power of the President,” said Año.
“Even before the investigation is conducted, the President can also dismiss any local chief executive if needed. That’s within the prerogative of the President…But as of now, we we’re seeing that all local chief executives are following,” he added.
Nograles said funeral service staff and personnel are granted exemptions from the imposed enhanced community quarantine and those rendering funeral services may move freely “to ensure that the remains of deceased individuals will be given proper funeral services.”
He said funeral companies are also directed to provide transportation and/or housing accommodations for their funeral service staff.
Nograles said funeral workers must strictly observe general infection precautions to avoid the further spread of the disease.
He said local government units should designate funeral service facilities to handle the remains of COVID-19 cases and to provide possible financial assistance to cover the logistics, fuel, salary, and other expenses that will be incurred in the process.
Año said remains of COVID-19 patients must be cremated within 12 hours from the time of death, while remains of a Muslim who died of the coronavirus must be placed in an air-tight sealed bag, accorded Muslims rites by an imam and buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery within 12 hours of death.
Nograles said local government units may also release issuances or ordinances to put a price cap or impose a price freeze on funeral services located within their jurisdiction.
He said DSWD had also recommended a P25,000 burial assistance for indigent COVID-19 patients and PUIs, regardless of whether the patients were treated in a private or government hospital. It shall also be given to those undergoing home quarantine.
In Mandaluyong City, the holding of wakes was temporarily prohibited by the city government.
Mayor Menchie Abalos signed executive order (EO) no. 9 series of 2020 ordering the immediate burial or cremation of the dead regardless of the cause of death to prevent the spread of the virus. The family of deceased residents have 48 hours to bury or cremate their love ones. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Christian Oineza