PRESIDENT Duterte late Monday night just about turned down proposals by proponents from medical, health and scientific communities to extend the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces and said the government and the economy cannot afford a prolonged strict lockdown.
The President, during a meeting with select members of the Cabinet and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases that he convened in Davao City, said that while he agrees with the suggestion of several doctors for a longer lockdown to enhance strategies to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), he has to put an equal weight of consideration to the livelihood of the people and the country’s economy.
“So I’m telling the doctors, as much as I would want really to give in to your demands especially in the matter of lockdown, I want it (too) because I do not want the contamination to continue,” he said.
However, the President added: “Alam mo, sa mga doktor, sabihin ko sa inyo. Hindi ko na sila (people) mapigilan, dahil po wala na akong pera na ibigay sa kanila. Kaya kailangan sila lumabas para magtrabaho. I-lockdown ko, ubos na iyung pera na ibinigay ng Congress na bigyan kayo ng ayuda. ‘Yung pera panggastos, wala na ako niyan (To the doctors, I will tell you this. I cannot stop the public because I don’t have any money to give them anymore. That’s why they need to go out of their houses to work. If I will place [these areas] again on lockdown, the funds given by Congress for assistance are already depleted.
I don’t have money to spend).”
The government had already distributed more than P100 billion to more than 18 million low income families under the first tranche of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
It is currently distributing the second tranche of the cash aid, which has so far benefited 86 percent of the targeted 14.1 million beneficiaries.
The government had imposed the MECQ in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal from August 4 to 18 following the calls from the medical community for enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to address declining health care capacity of the country amid the continuing increase in infections.
Experts from the academe said the two-week MECQ until August 18 is not enough and should be extended not just to lower the number of infections but to flatten the COVID-19 curve, but the government’s economic advisers warned that the economy can no longer afford an extended MECQ.
The country has already gone into recession in the second quarter of the year.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the IATF is still discussing the quarantine classifications after August 18.
“Ang tanong ay kung posible, ang sagot ko ay anything is possible but highly unlikely (The questions is if it is possible, my answer is anything is possible but highly unlikely),” he said when asked if it is possible for Metro Manila to remain under MECQ after August 18.
He said the government has already undertaken steps to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases which included aggressive testing especially in areas under lockdown, intensified contact tracing using the “one COVID-19 positive patient has 37 close contacts who must be traced” model of Baguio City, and more isolation houses through Oplan Kalinga and the use of hotel rooms and schools as temporary isolation facilities.
The Metro Manila Council (MMC) said members have yet to come up with a final consensus on whether or not to relax the quarantine status in the country’s capital region after August 18.
MMC chairman and Parañaque City mayor Edwin Olivarez said the MMC will meet before Saturday to discuss and agree on what quarantine status they would recommend to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) after the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) lapses next week.
“The basis of our recommendation to IATF on the quarantine status in Metro Manila is the trend on the number of cases for COVID-19 in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the economic status as well,” Olivarez said.
Olivarez was confident placing the NCR under MECQ for two weeks had successfully controlled local transmission of the coronavirus.
He cited the case of Parañaque, which he said has brought down to 25 to 30 cases its daily positive count, compared to the 70 to 80 confirmed cases per day when the region was under the less strict general community quarantine (GCQ).
Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar reiterated the success of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic lies in the cooperation of the public to quarantine protocols.
Eleazar, also the PNP deputy chief for operations, made the statement as the number of violators apprehended by the task force since March throughout the country breached the 300,000 as of Friday last week.
Based on the data released by the task force, the number of violators apprehended as of Monday has already reached 308,859, of which 146,012 were merely warned while the rest were either fined or charged.
The violators defied quarantine rules, including the mandatory wearing of face mask and observance of physical distancing.
“The success and failure of our fight against COVID-19 depends on the cooperation of our kababayans. The more they defy and challenge the rules set by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the more they make it difficult for our government to protect them,” said Eleazar.
Eleazar said the task force will remain aggressive in the implementation of the quarantine rules.
“On the part of the JTF COVID Shield, we will continue to maximize what we have to strictly enforce the quarantine rules because what is at stake here is the lives of the Filipino people and the fate of our country,” he added.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año directed Eleazar to deploy more policemen at remittance centers due to the anticipated influx of people who will claim their cash assistance under the Social Amelioration Program.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development has ramped up the digital payout of the second tranche. Officials said they are hoping to complete the payout this week.
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said Año issued the order to ensure that THE wearing of face mask and physical distancing are observed when SAP beneficiaries claim their financial subsidy.
“Our field offices have monitored long lines in some remittance centers. We advise them to practice social distancing at all times to protect themselves and their families. We are also urging the barangay to assign barangay tanods to remind the public of the minimum health standards together with the PNP,” said Malaya.
Malaya encouraged the beneficiaries, especially those who are receiving the assistance through GCash and PayMaya, not to encash their aid at the remittance centers, saying the assistance can be used for purchases through mobile applications.
“Kung puwedeng hindi na nila i-encash at dumiretso na sila sa mga grocery o botika na tumatanggap ng cashless transaction, mas mabuti, mas walang contact. Mas protektado tayo sa virus (If possible, they should not encash it and go direct to grocery stores or drug stores who are accepting cashless transactions, that’s better, there is less contact. We’re more protected from the virus),” said Malaya.
If the beneficiaries insist on encashing their aid, Malaya said “they must still practice physical distancing together with other minimum health standards to avoid transmission of COVID-19.”
DISTANCING AT HOME
Año yesterday denounced the use of social media platforms for the propagation of “malicious and false information” as he belied reports quoting him as saying that couples should practice physical distancing after sex.
“We at the DILG are not inclined to make such false and malevolent claims, neither will we tolerate them. False and derogatory news like these intend to impugn the institution’s credibility and undermine the progress we have thus far accomplished in the fight for Filipino survival,” said Año.
“As such, we at DILG will investigate the matter at hand and will go after the propagators of fake news with renewed intensity,” he added.
Año said the road to healing and recovery from the “troubling times” or pandemic “is not through divisive and disparaging means.”
“Rather, we must all put our best foot forward and unite as a nation to establish mutual trust between government and the citizenry as well as lead the path towards lasting peace, harmony, and progress,” he said.
Malaya said the “quote card image” attributed to Año was an “outright and malicious lie.”
“The DILG condemns in the strongest terms the people behind this post and vow to file criminal charges against them for being purveyors of gossip and fake news,” said Malaya.
Malaya said the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the PNP Anti-Cyber Crime Group are “now investigating this matter and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those behind this malicious attribution.”
“In this time of public health emergency, it is unfortunate that some people stoop so low and waste their time to spread fake news and sow disinformation to malign people such as Secretary Año, himself a COVID survivor, who has been tirelessly working to defeat COVID-19 in his capacity as vice chair of NTF (National Task Force) COVID-19,” he added.
“We urge these people to use their creative minds instead on how they can complement the efforts of the government in spreading the right information and helping those in need,” he also said. – With Noel Talacay and Victor Reyes