(Not a) lockdown
by Jon Joaquin
As the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the Philippines continues to rise, President Duterte appeared on live television on Thursday night, March 12, to declare stricter measures on Metro Manila. Earlier that day, the Department of Health (DOH) raised the Code Alert System for COVID-19 in the country to Code Red Sublevel 2, which is the highest level, and this opened the door for drastic directives such as the suspension of land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila from March 15 to April 14, 2020.
In his live address, the President actually used the word many people were urging government to do for some time now: “For Manila, may – Ayaw namin gamitin ‘yan pero — kasi takot kayo sabihin ‘lockdown.’ And a –- but it’s a lockdown.” (Loosely translated: For Manila, there is – we don’t want to use the word because you are afraid of it – but it’s a lockdown.) Malacañang would later clarify this and use the term “community quarantine,” not lockdown, on Metro Manila.
Other salient directives are the following:
- The suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila is extended until April 12, 2020, with students remaining in their respective homes for the said duration.
- Mass gatherings are prohibited during the period.
- Community quarantine is imposed in the entirety of Metro Manila.
- Work in the Executive Branch is suspended during the same period.
- Flexible work arrangements are encouraged in the private sector.
Mass public transports, such as the Light Rail Transits, the Metro Rail Transits, and the Philippine National Railway, will continue operation.
These have raised numerous questions –“How about those who live outside the Metro but work there?” “How do food and other essentials get in?” “I am a Filipino citizen, can I fly home to the Philippines?” As of this writing, Malacañang has been trying to answer them. Those who work in Metro Manila can enter but will have to show employee IDs; Transport of goods to and from Metro Manila will remain, subject to guidelines; Filipinos flying in will be subject to strict quarantine. But perhaps the most worrying for many people was the president’s statement that the military and police would be used to break up mass gatherings.
Here in Davao City, meanwhile, City Hall issued a rather confusing guideline – its eighth since the country experienced a sudden rise in cases of COVID-19 – that said the city was “NOT ON LOCKDOWN” (all caps theirs) but that residents were nevertheless “prohibited from going out of Davao City.” In addition, all short-term visitors were advised to leave Davao City immediately, and all travelers to Davao City were requested to postpone their visit until after the State of Public Health Emergency, which President Rodrigo Duterte had declared on March 9, is lifted.
Because of the confusion that the eighth guideline caused, Mayor Sara Duterte went live in a radio interview to clarify the directives. She said while the law gives the people the right to travel, the city government has the mandate to impose preventive measures to ensure public safety. She said as mayor, she has the duty to ensure the safety of her constituents, especially since public health is involved.
“The city has a limitation on health facilities and we cannot afford a widespread infection of COVID-19 here. Many people will die if we do not take action,” she said emphatically. She said she will not wait for a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the city before she implements measures for the safety of the people. “To wait for one positive patient before taking action is too late for everyone,” she said.
The mayor knew very well whereof she spoke: She had to do the radio interview by phone patch because, at the time, she was in voluntary isolation after initially fearing she may have been exposed to coronavirus through a meeting with a senator who had himself gone under self-quarantine after learning that one of the resource persons in a recent Senate hearing tested positive for COVID-19. In submitting herself not just to isolation but also to the still stigmatizing process of registering with the Department of Health as a Person Under Monitoring (PUM), the mayor was telling everyone that keeping oneself quarantined is of utmost importance and is meant not just to keep oneself safe but, more importantly, to keep other people from potentially catching the virus. It is a sacrifice made for the greater good.
So the restrictions, while they are not part of a lockdown, are meant to protect the larger population, especially since the city does not have the capacity to treat large numbers of sick people. In her radio interview, the mayor said non-residents of Davao City can still enter the city since no lockdown is being implemented, but she suggested that they cancel their trips. She also said it would be better for non-residents who are here on vacation to go back to their respective hometowns.
“If you are not a resident of Davao and you get the disease here, you can spread it in your hometown once you go back. It would be better if we take preventive measures,” she said.
Some people see shades of martial law in what the two Dutertes have imposed on Metro Manila and Davao City, but personally, I think the situation calls for such drastic measures. Social distancing is the most effective way to arrest the spread of the virus, and while people can certainly be cavalier with their own health, they should not be allowed to place other people at risk. As Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said as he sought to allay the fears and apprehension of the public, “the government is essentially calling for a stricter implementation of preventive measures in order to slow down and put a halt to the further spread of COVID-19.”
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.
Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at email@example.com.