A policy watchdog has slammed the Department of Transportation's (DOTr) claim that the request to reduce physical distancing in public transportation was prompted by public clamor.
In a statement on Tuesday, non-governmental organization Action for Economic Reforms (AER) said the public, particularly commuters, is calling for additional supply or availability of public transport under the general community quarantine and not for an eased distancing measure in public utility vehicles (PUVs).
The group reacted to a statement made by DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. in a "Laging Handa" virtual briefing on Monday that the reduced physical distancing policy was due to requests of the public as thousands of workers are now going back to their workplaces while the economy gradually reopens.
Under the new policy, physical distancing inside all modes of public transport has been reduced to 0.75 meters on Monday, lower than the one meter distance recommended by the World Health Organization to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The DOTr plans to further adjust this to 0.5 meters after two weeks, then to 0.3 meters after another two weeks.
However, the AER expressed concerns that the new policy might "endanger the lives of commuters and may lead to the resurgence in cases, thus undermining the goal of recovering the economy."
"Given that we are still at a most critical stage in fighting COVID-19, we cannot be complacent by loosening physical distancing. We reiterate our previous point that this is a kind of signaling that things are now normal, and behavior on a bus or train will spill over to behavior in other places," the AER said.
The group emphasized that while there is really a need to address the lack of available public transport in the capital region, it can be done by allowing more PUVs to operate and providing safe alternative transport options rather than loosening safety guidelines.
The AER urged the DOTr to focus on providing alternative transport options mandated in the recently passed Bayanihan 2 law that allocates P1.3 billion to active transport infrastructure and P 5.6 billion to the service contracting of PUVs, which they said could "increase the capacity and efficiency of public transport without breaching physical distancing protocol."
"We call on the DOTr and the IATF to improve the availability of public transport vehicles while retaining the physical distancing protocols of at least one meter for commuters. We also call on the IATF and government agencies to coordinate and collaborate with the Department of Health and the health sector in fighting the pandemic. The battle against COVID-19 is far from over, and now is not the time to drop our guard," AER added.