By Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Emmie Abadilla and Alexandria Dennise San Juan
President Duterte has announced that Metro Manila, along with other areas, will shift to general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1 even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“You know, the NCR (National Capital Region) will now be placed under the general community quarantine or the GCQ starting June 1. Davao City will remain under GCQ,” the President said in a public address Thursday evening.
The other regions that will be placed or remain under GCQ starting next week are: Region II, Region III, Region IV-A, Pangasinan, and Albay.
“’Yan sila (That’s all of them), until we have reviewed the general situation,” he said. “We are not happy to put you in this place but after review maybe we can.”
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation, along with Former Health Secretaries Dr. Esperanza Cabral and now congresswoman Janette Garin, and Rep. Sharon Garin, back President Duterte’s order to place the entire Metro Manila under GCQ starting June 1.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Mandaue City will also shift to GCQ. Cebu City, on the other hand, is appealing to be classified under the GCQ. Both Mandaue City and Cebu City were the last two cities in the country under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until May 31
Roque said Metro Manila can always go back to its previous quarantine level if the doubling rate of COVID-19, which is now around 30 days, will go back to two to seven days.
“Kapag bumalik po ‘yan sa dati na two days o seven days, tanging quarantine pa rin ang solution para mapabagal po ang sakit (If the doubling rate goes back to two to seven days, then the only solution is quarantine in order to slow down the transmission of the disease),” he said.
The President said the rest of the country will be placed under modified GCQ (MGCQ) starting June 1.
The status of other places in the country will be reviewed depending on their capability to provide critical care to suspect, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“In other areas, it will be, again, on a piecemeal basis, depending on the viability of the place to meet the challenges of COVID-19,” he said.
The President reminded the public to wear face masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus while slowly transitioning to the so-called “new normal.”
The new normal is the next step after a certain area in the country moves on from the MGCQ.
Duterte explained that law enforcers will strictly implement the wearing of face masks to protect the public.
“Remember, the COVID-19 microbes are still in the air that you breathe, that you pass on to your fellowmen if you are not ready or willing to wear the mask,” he said.
Road, sea transport under GCQ
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has released its new guidelines for the road transport sector as various areas in the country will shift to GCQ on June 1.
For public transportation in areas under GCQ, sanitary measures will be strictly enforced, such as wearing of face masks at all times, no-contact cashless payments, use of thermal scanners, availability of alcohol and sanitizers in Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs), disinfection of high-touch surfaces of vehicles, establishment of disinfection facilities in various public transport terminals, and contact tracing.
The GCQ guidelines will be implemented in two phases.
During Phase 1, from June 1 to 21, DOTr will allow trains and bus augmentation, taxis, TNVS, shuttle services, Point-to-Point buses, and bicycles to operate, with limited passenger capacity.
Tricycles will also be allowed, subject to the prior approval of the concerned Local Government Unit (LGU).
Provincial buses will not be allowed to enter Metro Manila during Phase 1.
During Phase 2, from June 22 to 30, Public Utility Buses (PUBs), modern PUVs, and UV Express will already be allowed to operate, again, with limited passenger capacity, along with the initial set of transport modes allowed to operate during Phase 1.
All public transport vehicles will enforce the 1-meter social distance rule between persons.
To minimize physical contact under the “new normal,” the DOTr will use automatic fare collection system (AFCS) for cashless payment transactions in buses and taxis, electronic toll collection, and GNSS/GPS.
The DOTr will also promote online transactions in licensing, registration, and other documentary requirements.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)’s Public Transport Online Processing System (PTOPS) will run in the National Capital Region (NCR) on June 1, 2020.
This system will allow transactions to be made online, except the publication and hearing of cases which will make LTFRB services faster and accessible for all.
Other DOTr institutional changes include routes rationalization for more effective traffic management; industry consolidation and use of shuttle services to prevent students and employees from contracting the virus; and promoting the use of non-motorized transport, such as bicycles, to maintain physical distancing.
Under a GCQ setting, the DOTr issetting a system of dedicated lanes for buses in EDSA, along with bike lanes, as well as pedestrian crossing and bus boarding areas in strategic places.
“On Monday, the first day of GCQ, we expect our train operation at 100 percent,” said DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade. “We have marked every seat, every alley, ticket booth, and queuing lanes.”
However, the passenger capacity of all rail transport will be “limited, gradual, and calculated.”
The Philippine National Railway (PNR) will only have a passenger capacity of 20-30%. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) will only have capacities of 10 to 12 percent.
Because of the trains’ limited capacities, the DOTr will have a bus augmentation system.
The buses under this scheme will follow the trains’ lines to transport “more or less the same volume of passengers” that the trains carry.
The bus augmentation system will have 300-500 buses initially and will run on dedicated lanes along EDSA.
Grab and taxis will also be allowed to operate.
In sea transport, DOTr is doing a test run of electronic ticketing which will become operational in December to eradicate scalping and overloading of ship passengers.
“Ready or not, I think we should reopen the economy because this time, we have to save the livelihoods of many of our Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that are on the brink of great danger at this point in time. It’s our obligation, as the private sector to conduct testing, to ensure that if found positive, we will trace, isolate, and treat,” said Concepcion.
He added that while NCR eases into GCQ, there is still the risk of infection. He urged everyone to be more vigilant. “A stronger public-private partnership in beating the virus is definitely great news for all our Filipino people. I believe we will prevent reinfection and a second wave. As we reopen the economy, we must remember to do it safely and cautiously. We must use all the tools available to us at the moment to protect the lives and livelihood of our people and to effectively fight COVID19. Let us not be complacent. The war is still on until we find a cure.”
During Go Negosyo’s Balik-Kabuhayan webinar series last May 29,Ayala also backed the reopening of the economy: “It is a balancing act between the need for the economy to come back to life. It is a period of zero income and there’s only so much that can last without massive economic support from the government. The government has its own limitations to its balance sheet and the likes. There is no choice in my mind but to start easing back in following the proper protocols and reentering the economy, in a safe prudent and very cautious way,” Ayala said.
“This is the time for national unity. The private sector has to work handin-hand with the public sector. There are moments of crisis where you can’t sit back and say ‘it is not our responsibility, it’s yours.’ We don’t have a role to play. I think that is something that PA Joey has always believed in, this duality,” he added.
“If we don’t reopen, we might be able to prevent a few cases of COVID19, but then we will have more of non-COVID-19 illnesses. So, this is a balance between the two and this is actually a good part where business sectors come together because aside from putting up additional testing centers, coming up with the recovery livelihood will actually pave way for people to start taking up their maintenance medication again, for people to have something to spend when it comes to healthcare. This is because the government cannot fully subsidize COVID-19 and non-COVID illnesses. Reopening the economy actually means taking care of public health,” said Jannette Garin, who also serves as the ARK-PCR Private Sector Chief Implementer.
Former Health Secretary Cabral, when asked about the ability of the country’s economy to reopen again, said: “Well, I’d say that we are as ready as we can be to open business again. We have had two months to prepare, I mean the healthcare system. And if we have not prepared over the last months, we will never be prepared. Yes, I think that we are ready to open.”
From the public sector standpoint, Rep. Sharon Garin noted that the economic movement should resume. “What we have to instill on the people is not amelioration, but investment. They have to work with the money that they are getting and to continue until the virus is eradicated. What we have to do right now is balancing. I think it’s a good balance having what the organization is trying to do. As long as both have the minimum standards to comply with whatever health requirement that these doctors that we have here. I think there should be a good balance.”
Cashless is the new normal
The DOTr said it will soon start the implementation of digital fares or cashless transactions in some modes of public transportation in preparation for the so-called “new normal.”
“Uumpisahan natin, part of the new normal, magkakaroon ho tayo ng digitalized operation sa taxi, sa bus, na kung saan magkakaroon ng cashless transaction (We will start, as part of the new normal, the digitized operations of taxis, buses, where we will have cashless transactions),” he said.
“Again, to help prevent the spread of the disease. Ito na ho ‘yung mga card system. Ginagawa ho at gagawin namin sa mga taxi at saka mga modernized jeepney at bus ‘yan (This will be through the card system. We are doing and will be doing this in taxis, modernized jeepneys, and buses).
The DOTr said it will expand the international aviation gateways in the country to include airports in Clark, Cebu, and Davao once the capital region shifts to GCQ.
Tugade said the move aims to decongest terminals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Metro Manila and transfer the load to other provinces and regions.
“We are an archipelago, which is why it is imperative that we spread the aviation centrum of operations to other parts of the country, and other parts of the region,” Tugade said.
Apart from the mentioned city airports, Tugade said they are looking into further expanding the international gateways gradually.
We are looking into increasing the international gateways every one or two weeks to include airports in Zamboanga, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Bohol,” he said.
The DOTr is also establishing COVID-19 testing laboratories at the airports to ensure that passengers coming into the country are free of the disease.
Tugade also announced that it will allow domestic air operations from GCQ to GCQ areas not only for mobility but also to boost “domestic tourism.”
“We are allowing the resumption of domestic air operations in areas placed under GCQ. We will not limit the operations in Central Luzon. We will also allow Visayas and Mindanao,” he added.
Tugade also said that they will start implementing the hub-andspoke model in airlines beginning June 1 where major air carriers can use regional airports as an alternative airport hub “to spread aviation potentials and to promote not only domestic mobility, but more importantly our domestic tourism.”