By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has directed local government officials to “open the gates of your territories” to returning overseas Filipino workers, saying it would be “cruel” and unlawful to stifle the right of people to travel and go home.
In his latest public address late Monday night (May 25), the President told local officials to accept the repatriates who have been declared “safe” from the coronavirus infection, saying only the national government can impose travel restrictions in the country.
Duterte issued the remarks after learning that some local officials were blocking the return of Filipino repatriates despite their completing their testing and quarantine requirements.
“Only the national government can impose restrictions on travel because it is the only agency that can declare that there’s an emergency of national interest and that power of declaration is not shared by anybody, it’s the national government,” he said.
“I’m ordering you to accept them, open the gates of your territories and allow the people, allow the Filipino to travel wherever they want,” he said.
He said local officials are not allowed to “unilaterally” declare the closure of their borders. He cautioned that they might be sued if they block the return of returning residents to their hometowns. “Mahirap yan. Magkagulo tayo (That’s difficult. We’re going to have a problem),” he said.
If local government units want to impose border controls, Duterte said they should get permission from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“It is a right, [a] constitutional right, of people to travel and go home. Do not impede it, do not obstruct the movement of people, because you run the risk of getting sued criminally,” he said.
Duterte also asked mayors and governors to treat the repatriates as fellow Filipinos. He maintained that the repatriates, who underwent testing and quarantine, have been cleared of any infection.
President Duterte earlier ordered health and labor authorities to facilitate the return of the 24,000 OFWs stuck in Metro Manila quarantine centers within a week. The results of the testing should be immediately released so those who test negative can finally go to their places of residence.
Duterte said he has authorized authorities to use all resources to bring home the repatriates. He said if the current batch of OFWs are not sent home, there might be a problem when another batch of repatriates arrive in the country.
In the same meeting with the President, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año has given his assurance that 24,000 OFWs set to go home have tested “negative” for the new coronavirus.