BY NOEL TALACAY and MYLA IGLESIAS
TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade has suspended the implementation of the new physical distancing guideline in all public transportation that reduced the space between passengers to 0.75 meter from the previous one meter distance, which the Department of Transportation (DOTr) first enforced last Monday.
The DOTr, through a Viber message sent out by Assistant Secretary Goddess Libiran, said: “Sec. Tugade does not savor the scenario that public views a divided IATF (Inter-Agency
Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases).”
Tugade, the message added, “does not enjoy seeing a perception that a timeline is being set whereupon the Office of the President should make a decision.”
Tugade announced the easing of physical distancing space in all public utility vehicles (PUVs) over the weekend, which was met with mixed reactions by lawmakers, government officials and the public at large.
Tugade said that from the one meter space recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), the DOTr would now allow passengers to be at 0.75 meter apart starting September. The space would subsequently be reduced to 0.5 meter and 0.3 meter by next month.
He said the move to reduce the physical distancing requirement was brought about by the public clamor for increased public transportation to ferry more people to work. He added consultations were made with medical experts about the new measure.
Tugade said the guideline was approved by the IATF last week.
But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the DOTr move did not have the go-signal of the IATF.
Año said the task force only agreed to the National Economic Development Authority recommendation to have the Department of Health and the DOTr draft new guidelines that would help reopen industries and revive the economy.
The IATF on Monday met with health experts and discuss the eased public transportation distancing measure for six hours.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte is expected to decide on the issue on Monday after he meets with members of the IATF.
Roque said that while the President has yet to make an announcement, the reduction of the one meter physical distancing rule in public transportation is suspended.
“We revert back to the one meter distancing in public transportation while the President has no decision yet if we can bring it down to 0.75 meter,” Roque said.
Roque said the President will study the report and recommendations of the IATF which was expected to submit the documents yesterday.
Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar yesterday threatened to apprehend tourists from Metro Manila and Batangas if they go to Tagaytay City in Cavite without a travel pass.
Eleazar made the warning as he reiterated that travel from general community quarantine (GCQ) areas like Metro Manila and Batangas to modified GCQ like Cavite is not permitted under quarantine protocols, unless covered by travel authority.
Local government officials of Cavite have been saying over the past days that travel authority is no longer required for tourists who want to go to Tagaytay City because the province is now under MGCQ, thus tourism is now allowed.
Travel passes are issued by policemen to locally-stranded individuals and other people who want to cross borders. It is issued once the applicants present medical certificates to prove they are not sick of COVID-19.
Members of Authorized Persons Outside Residence, including frontliners and workers of permitted industries, are allowed to cross borders as long as their travel is work-related. Otherwise, they will also have to secure travel pass.
To tourists from Metro Manila and Batangas who will be caught attempting to enter Tagaytay City without a travel authority, Eleazar said they would be sent back to their place of origin.
Eleazar said those who continue to insist that Metro Manila and Batangas tourists no longer need travel authority to enter Cavite should talk to Año.
Earlier yesterday, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla insisted that travel authority is not needed to enter the province.
“At present, Tagaytay City open, it’s under MGCQ and travel pass is not needed to be here,” said Remulla said in his Facebook page.
Nevertheless, Remulla said there is a need to strictly follow health protocols in hotels and restaurants, noting that “we are still under a strict quarantine system. We are still very much in a pandemic mode.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Victor Reyes