PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will file cases against local government officials who don’t strictly abide with the national government’s guidelines to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Mr. Duterte said this in an address made in the early hours of Friday morning, calling on all Local Government Units (LGUs) to follow the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). If they still continue to set standards that are out of the national government’s set policies in addressing COVID-19, he will ask the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to go after them.
“if you go beyond the standards that we have set, you are abusing your authority, and you know that it can lead to administrative cases or even worse, unless you stop what you are doing… I am therefore directing the DILG and DOJ to closely monitor the compliance of LGUs with the directives of the office and to file the necessary cases against wayward officials,” he said.
The Palace earlier this week placed the entire island of Luzon under an “enhanced community quarantine”until April 12 after the number of locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 increased in the country.
However, Mr. Duterte also said in a speech earlier this week that LGUs can come up with their own ordinances and policies to help their areas and constituents cope with the Luzon lockdown.
“(The mayor) can come up with any measure to protect public health, public interest, public order, public safety, whatever is needed to make life more livable in your place,” Mr. Duterte said on March 16.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año said in a briefing on Friday that some local governments in Visayas and Mindanao had committed actions that are not under their mandate such as restricting cargo.
“May mga ibang LGUs na nag-iba ng interpretation (There are LGUs who interpreted things differently); like for example, the checkpoint and passing of cargoes. Kasama diyan dapat lahat ng cargoes (all cargoes should be part of that), especially food and medicine should be unhampered but because some LGUs in Visayas and Mindanao, nag-lockdown sila ng kanilang border, ayaw na nilang paraanin itong mga cargoes na ito na kailangang-kailangang makarating sa iba’t ibang lugar, kasama na rin ang island of Luzon (they locked down in their borders, they wouldn’t allow the passage of these cargoes which urgently need to go to different places which also includes Luzon),” he said.
He added that some LGUs had also banned domestic flights. He said “Wala sa authority ng LGU ang mag-cancel ng mga (it’s not part of their authority to cancel) airport flights particularly domestic flights because that belongs to another government department. So there must be a coordination, there must be a dialogue, and there must be an agreement. So you’ll find a lot of people get stranded because some LGU officials suddenly declared that domestic flights in their respective areas are already cancelled or will not be allowed. OFWs, balikbayans and foreign nationals, we are allowing them to leave our country anytime. But because some balikbayans and some foreign nationals cannot pass through a particular jurisdiction, they cannot get through to the international airport. “
Another issue is that some LGUs are allowing some public transportation to run, which violates the “enhanced community quarantine” protocol. The task force urges LGUs to provide transportation especially if their aim is to transport frontliners.
On the other hand, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Friday said it will look closely into sources of fake news on the internet which add to the public’s distress at a time when they are already concerned with the quarantine and the virus. It has instructed the Cyber Crime Division (CCD), the Digital Forensic Division, and other Investigative units including the Regional Operations Service to trace where false news that is circulating comes from.
The probe against fake news on COVID-19 comes after they found a false statement attributed to the US State Department which warned about the possibility of looting during the lockdown.
“The International Operations Division is now gathering relevant data and other information for possible case build up and filing of cases against the perpetrators of fake news,” NBI said in a statement Friday.
Meanwhile, mass testing for the COVID-19 virus is not seen as necessary at the moment. The Philippines is still scrambling for supplies of diagnostic kits.
“Hindi pa naman nakikitang kailangan nating gawin itong mass testing na ito pero nasa talaan… .na kung sakaling dumating yung panahon (We still don’t see the need to do this mass testing but it’s on the list…that if the time comes), and if we have enough resources and the government can do it, and it is already imperative for the government to do it, gagawin po natin ‘yan kung saka-sakali (we will do it eventually),” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in the same briefing Friday.
The Department of Health (DoH) assured the public that more testing kits are already being procured by the government while donations from other countries and organizations are on their way to the country. — Gillian M. Cortez