By Jenina P. Ibañez

FOREIGN business groups are urging the government to ensure the unhampered transport of food and other essential products, amid reports that cargo trucks are still being stopped at checkpoints amid the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“Local governments in some cases are slowing or preventing movement of essential workers and agricultural and manufactured goods,” Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines (JFC) Senior Adviser John Forbes said in a mobile message on Tuesday.

In a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the government placed Luzon under ECQ, where most are in home quarantine and only essential workers in approved industries are allowed to go to work and transport goods.

While the Trade department had said that all cargo must pass unhampered through checkpoints, business groups said there are inconsistencies in implementing these guidelines.

Nabil Francis, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), said in a mobile message that there have been challenges in filing required documents, logistics, and implementation of food lanes in checkpoints. The food lanes were meant to speed up the transport of perishable agri-fishery commodities.

“While there are notable policies already to address some of the aforementioned challenges, it was reported that some varied in interpretation, as seen on multiple levels of jurisdiction,” he said.

Mr. Francis said that there needs to be further alignment between the issuances of the national and local government, and better communication in applying national policies to a local level, to prevent delays.

Even Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar, head of the Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield, admitted some LGUs have come out with “extremely strict” policies regarding the entry of cargo.

“With the quarantine, what we’re trying to prevent or to restrict is the movement of the people who are possible carriers of the virus, but not cargo. It is important for cargo to be delivered so that we do not have a food shortage. That is a problem we have seen every day,” Mr. Eleazar said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

EU-ASEAN Business Council Executive Director Chris Humphrey said in an e-mail that supply chains that support the production and movement of essential goods such as medicine, food, and personal care products should “function as normally as possible.”

“It is important that governments consult industry to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are put in place in advance of any lockdowns to allow for such supply chains to operate efficiently,” Mr. Humphrey said.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in a statement on Wednesday said goods manufacturers, retailers, and distributors can expect “normalization” in cargo movement this week.

“While there were initial difficulties during the first two or three days of implementation, improvements have been reported since Friday of last week. The situations have eased up at checkpoints and we have been hearing more positive feedback on the movement of cargoes,” DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said.

DTI is encouraging those delivering goods to present the cargo manifest or delivery receipt that indicates their destination, nature of transport, and quantity of goods at checkpoints to avoid delay. It also asked LGUs to comply with the guidelines.

The foreign business groups have been responding to the government’s actions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Government is on the right track and needs our full support and cooperation. More medical equipment and testing needed quickly. And more hospital space,” Mr. Forbes said.

The Department of Health on Friday assigned three dedicated public hospitals to serve COVID-19 patients after an appeal from private hospitals. Private hospitals The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Makati Medical Center this week said they could no longer accommodate COVID-19 cases.

Mr. Humphrey said that businesses in the future will likely reevaluate their supply chains and look to diversify them further. “This could and should present an opportunity to the countries in ASEAN, especially if they can advance the regional economic integration agenda further,” he said.

Chris Nelson, British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines executive director, said in a mobile message that he is in contact with member companies to address present challenges, and is in discussions with interested British companies to be able to take on business opportunities when possible.

“While it is a difficult situation here and in many countries we are optimistic that the Philippines remains an attractive market for British companies going forward,” he said.