BY VICTOR REYES and NOEL TALACAY
TALKS of a lockdown, at least in Metro Manila, came to the fore yesterday as Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Metro Manila mayors wrestled with the problem of how to prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from further spreading.
Año said majority of the mayors who attended a meeting of the Metro Manila Council, the governing and policy-making body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, are open to the idea of locking down Metro Manila but did not identify them.
Present during the meeting were mayors Edwin Olivarez of Paranaque, Toby Tiangco of Navotas, Abigail Binay of Makati, Vico Sotto of Pasig, Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela, Emily Calixto-Rubiano of Pasay, Jaime Fresnedi of Muntinlupa, Lino Cayetano of Taguig, Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina, Imelda Aguilar of Las Pinas, Carmelita Abalos of Mandaluyong, and Francis Zamora of San Juan.
“If we reach the Code Red sublevel 2, this is the time that we could lock down Metro Manila to stop the community transmission of the virus, but it would be depending on the area,” Año said.
He assured the public that government is ready in the event of a lockdown, saying that “we have the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces to help the local government units” enforce it.
Lockdowns have been implemented in other areas overseas as part of aggressive measures to combat the virus, first in Wuhan, China, and in Italy, the country hardest-hit by the virus outside of China. Under the lockdown implemented in Italy, movement of people has been restricted and public spaces, including schools and universities, were closed.
But Olivarez, who chairs the council, said there is no need to lock down Metro Manila for now pending a decision coming from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease chaired by the Department of Health.
Binay said locking down Metro Manila is an extreme measure, saying “we are not yet there.” She urged the parents of students affected by the class suspension in Metro Manila to ensure their children will stay home.
President Duterte last Monday declared a public health emergency due to the local transmission of the virus.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones said they will implement the suspension order of Duterte, adding she has allowed all DepEd officials to provide the students the necessary assignments to enable them to continue the process of learning.
DUTERTE: NO LOCKDOWN
President Duterte on Monday night rejected the possible lockdown of Metro Manila but suspended classes in Metro Manila until March 12. Duterte said it is too early to declare a lockdown but acknowledged the rising number of confirmed COVID cases in the country.
The Department of Health initially announced on Monday morning that there were 10 new confirmed cases, which included one local transmission. The number increased to 20 in the afternoon and to 24 in the evening. On Tuesday, the confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 33.
“We have not reached that kind of contamination…With this transmission, you want to close down the economy at this time? There will be a time I suppose. I hope not. I hope God will have mercy on our, the Filipino people. There might be a time. But at this time…it’s too early,” the President said.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Jose Ma. Salceda had proposed a lockdown in Metro Manila for at least a week to minimize the risk of mass transmission since most of the COVID cases are in the NCR.
Año, meanwhile, directed mayors, barangay leaders and police units in Metro Manila to keep all students away from malls, movie houses, markets and other crowded areas to help contain the spread of the virus.
Relaying Duterte’s order on Monday night, Año said children who will be seen in these areas should be sent home. Duterte suspended classes in all levels in Metro Manila from yesterday up to Saturday.
“The President has directed all local officials in NCR from mayor down to punong barangays as well as all units of the Philippine National Police to ensure that no children are seen loitering around and, if they are seen, they are to be immediately sent home to do their homework,” said Año.
Año appealed for the cooperation of parents to instill discipline and closely supervise their children to stay home.
“Our police officers and the barangay officials will serve as truant officers to ensure that kids stay at home. I have also directed all our Metro Manila Mayors to personally direct their respective chiefs of police to implement the presidential directive so that local governments and the police will jointly implement this policy of the government,” he said.
Año also directed local officials to suspend or postpone all mass gatherings as a preemptive social distancing measure.
Año said they recommended a 14-day suspension of classes but the President reduced it to just five days. He said they will assess if there will be another class suspension after Saturday.
Año said government will continue to function, adding work suspension will happen only under a sublevel 2 (alert).
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the code red alert sublevel 1 declared by the health department does not call for a lock-down.
“We are still at sublevel 1 and this type of alert level does not require a lockdown but only enhanced hygiene and preemptive social distancing measures,” Malaya said.
Malaya also noted that these measures are only applicable in the NCR. “There is no decision yet about other places in the country. That would be dependent on the findings and recommendations of the DOH,” he said.
“We are now under public health emergency. All Filipino citizens, residents, tourists should comply with the lawful directives and advisories of the DOH and other government agencies to ensure the safety and well-being of all,” said Malaya.
As to manpower requirements, Año said: “We have enough manpower. If development arises and we contain it in one area, we can consolidate and get manpower from other regions…We attack where it is needed.”
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines called on President Duterte to provide cash subsidy to workers in the event of a lockdown in Metro Manila.
“We call upon President Duterte to provide workers with cash subsidy as government financial aid to daily-paid workers and those ‘no-work no-pay’ employees, who might be affected in case the government enforces a lockdown on COVID-19 hit areas, where their workplaces are located,” TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said in a statement.
He added government must also provide emergency employment for displaced workers, underemployed, and seasonal workers for a minimum of 10 days but not exceeding a maximum of 30 days.
The Senate on Monday night started to institute steps to contain the spread of the virus within its premises.
Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, in Monday afternoon’s session, recommended to Senate President Vicente Sotto III to temporarily ban the entry of people in the Senate without official business, temporarily stop study tours in the Senate, and temporarily stop operations of its Public Assistance Center.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Senate basic education committee chairman, urged the Department of Education to suspend graduation rites, including pre-school graduations and moving up ceremonies, following the declaration of state of public health emergency due to the virus.
Sen. Grace Poe, Senate public services committee chairperson, urged health and civil defense authorities to send free mobile alerts on the COVID-19 to ease widespread fear and help citizens make informed choices.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, Senate labor committee chairman, said employers can sustain their workers’ productivity by allowing them to work through telecommuting.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council yesterday cancelled a scheduled nationwide earthquake drill on Thursday. NDRRMC executive director and concurrent Office of Civil Defense administrator Ricardo Jalad cancelling the drill would not be a big setback, noting they have inculcated to the people what to do in cases of actual earthquakes.
The PNP Academy Alumni Association Inc. also postponed its alumni homecoming on March 12 to 15 due to Duterte’s declaration of state of public health emergency.
The Bureau of Correction suspended for one week the visitation rights for inmates at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa city and the other penal colonies it operates in the country.
Aside from the NBP, also covered by the suspension of the visitation rights are the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong city, Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte, Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan, Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga city and Leyte Regional Prison in Southern Leyte. – With Gerard Naval, Ashzel Hachero, Raymond Africa, and Jocelyn Montemayor