By Noel Talacay
MAYORS of Metro Manila have agreed to temporarily suspend the operation of internet cafes and businesses that offer personal services in support of the government’s decision to limit people movement out of their homes to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Benhur Abalos, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), said the 17 members of the Metro Manila Commission (MMC) have signed MMDA Resolution no. 21-05 series of 2021 orders the immediate closure of gyms, spas, and internet cafes until April 04, Easter Sunday.
“It was voted on Monday night through Viber, we have a group chat on Viber. From there, the mayors were able to agree on the closure of the gyms, spas, and internet cafes within National Capital Region Plus bubble,” Abalos said in a phone interview.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) yesterday issued DTI Memorandum Circular 21-11 clarifying a provision in Resolution 104 of the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on the operations of spas and gyms in the NCR Plus bubble.
The resolution now specifies that spas, gyms and fitness centers as well as internet cafes are included in the list of enterprises that should be closed until April 4, in addition to driving schools, entertainment, amusement and interactive game arcades, libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers as contained in the resolution.
Lopez said the MC also provides for uniform guidelines among local government units (LGUs) within the NCR Plus, that includes Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal.
“Although last year’s MC allowed LGUs to determine the operating capacity and guidelines, we are nevertheless issuing the MC to have uniform implementation in the areas covered by IATF Resolution 104 or NCR Plus,” Lopez said, even as he deferred to the Department of Tourism the issue on allowing staycations with the bubble.
Despite the ban on religious gatherings within the NCR Plus bubble, Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the Archdiocese of Manila will allow open its religious worship activities to up to 10 percent of its capacity.
“Within our churches, starting March 24, we will have our religious worship within 10 percent of our maximum church capacity,” said Pabillo in his pastoral letter, adding: “Let the worshippers be spread apart within our churches, using the health protocols that we have been so consistently implementing.”
He, however, stressed that no parishioners will be welcome to stay outside the churches.
“We will not have any religious activity outside of our churches such as Senakulo, Pabasa, processions, motorcades, and Visita Iglesia,” said Pabillo.
In a radio interview, Pabillo said they have decided to push through with public religious activities as they do not agree with the latest decision of the IATF prohibiting religious gatherings for the next two weeks.
“They are wrong, and we should not follow such policies that didn’t go through consultation. It somehow breaks the separation of Church ang State,” said Pabillo over Church-run Radio Veritas.
He said the faithful should manifest their opposition as religious activities are equally essential to the people.
For the coming Holy Week, he said the Archdiocese will proceed with the Consecration of the Holy Chrism and the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick in the Manila Cathedral during the 7:30 a.m. Mass on Holy Wednesday.
On Holy Thursday, the faithful are invited to join online in the Archdiocesan Way of the Cross at 8 a.m. and the prayers before the reposed Blessed Sacrament in each parish.
On Good Friday, all parishes are encouraged to organize their own online Way of the Cross and reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus.
On Holy Saturday, the faithful are encouraged to join TV Maria and Radio Veritas in the Tenebrae, or the set of prayers that commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus, at 8 a.m. and on Easter Sunday, the faithful is called to join online in the celebration of the 500 years of the coming of Christianity, with the opening of the Holy Door at the Manila Cathedral at 10 a.m.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque warned Pabillo not to test the state as he warned of the possible closing down of churches if it proceeds with its plans to open religious institutions to up to 10 percent of their venue Roque said Pabillo’s announcement that church goers are still welcome to attend church activities is contrary to the IATF advisory and urged Pabillo not to disregard the government protocol.
Roque said enforcing police powers and promoting public health is not against the separation of Church and state.
“In the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed. We hope it will not reach that point, Bishop Pabillo. You will not gain anything if you will force the State to close the doors of the church,” he said.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar has ordered police commanders to put up additional control points or checkpoints to prevent people, with no essential mission, from going in and out of the NCR Plus bubble.
The control points will be in addition to the 20 checkpoints that were established in the borders of the NCR and the four nearby provinces last Monday during the start of the two-week stricter general community quarantine.
Eleazar said there is a need to put up the control points to ensure people would not use access roads to violate community quarantine protocols.
“These access roads leading to and out of the NCR Plus bubble should also be watched. Our strict implementation to achieve the real intent of this bubble in the major thoroughfares will not be maximized if there are other access roads that would be unguarded,” said Eleazar.
“So, I have already directed the chiefs of police of these areas to coordinate with their respective local government units down to the barangay level, to set up border control points in these access roads,” added Eleazar.
Eleazar directed policemen to make sure that only Authorized Persons Outside Residence, including medical frontliners, essential workers and those delivering essential goods, would be allowed to come in and out of the bubble.
Eleazar admitted the bubble concept is new to the PNP, thus “adjustments and corrections are being made to improve its implementation.”
Eleazar said no control points should be set up within the NCR Plus bubble, specifically at the entry and exit points of Metro Manila, unless necessary to support the checkpoints set up in the boundaries of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal.
“There should be less restrictions for people inside the bubble because they are considered as one big area. This is to ensure smooth access because workers of Metro Manila for instance live in these four adjacent provinces,” said Eleazar.
Eleazar nevertheless said checkpoints within the bubble may be necessary to enforce the uniform 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew hours and enforce minimum health standards.
“Checkpoints within the bubble are still necessary particularly during curfew hours. Beyond curfew period, they can observe, caution or accost those flagrantly violating health protocols but will no longer check motorists for movement restriction. Checkpoints are critical and important police interventions in case of dragnet operations if ever there are emergencies and hot pursuit operations,” said Eleazar.
Meanwhile, DILG undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the DILG has directed the PNP to strictly enforce the wearing of face shield among the public.
“We will be mobilizing all our force multipliers in the barangays to enforce the face shield protocol,” said Malaya, adding there is a need to increase the use of face shield “to get the maximum protection at this time of the surge.”
Yesterday, the Supreme Court scaled down the operations of all courts in the NCRC, as well as in Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal from March 23 to 31 in compliance with the stricter guidelines set by the government.
Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said courts shall maintain a skeleton force of 30 to 50 percent in-court during the said period depending on the discretion of the presiding judge.
“Those who will not be in-court shall work from home and be subject to the submission of accomplishment reports,” Marquez said in OCA Circular No.43-2021.
“During this period, the presiding judges of said courts are highly encouraged to conduct videoconferencing hearings as an alternative to in-court proceedings,” Marquez added.
Presiding judges are required to personally report to their court if there are urgent matters that require his or her personal presence.
In a related development, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert requested the Office of the Court Administrator to allow the closure of the city’s two Hall of Justice buildings from March 22 to April 4 after nine staff tested positive.
Villavert said this is the “highest number of confirmed cases” in the Quezon City Hall of Justice Buildings in a given month.
SHUN WORK FIRST
Workers still waiting for the results of their RT-PCR tests should avoid going to work for the meantime instead of risking spreading the coronavirus to their colleagues, Labor Assistant Secretary Ma. Teresita Cucueco said in a press briefing.
“To address this surge, we are saying that if you will be swabbed, please go back home and wait for your results,” said Cucueco, adding: “If you don’t know the results yet, it’s better just to wait it out in quarantine or in your home.”
As for those who will be reporting in the workplaces, the labor official advised them to adopt a mindset that all of them are already carrying the virus. “If you have to meet people, limit the time and wear full protection,” she said. – With Irma Isip, Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes, Gerard Naval and Ashzel Hachero