Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua has asked President Duterte to place the entire country under the least stringent Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) beginning March to mitigate the hunger and job losses.
During the Cabinet’s weekly briefing with President Duterte late Monday, Feb. 15, Chua said the local economy suffered P1.04 trillion in income losses last year, equivalent to P2.8 billion per day, due to several restrictions imposed by the government.
To mitigate additional income losses, Chua appealed to President Duterte to further reopen the economy by placing the whole country, particularly Metro Manila, under MGCQ – the most relaxed quarantine mode.
Chua also recommended allowing individuals aged five to 70 to go outside their homes as well as the conduct of pilot face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
But some Metro Manila mayors and the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) opposed the proposal.
In an interview with Unang Balita, San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora said it’s better for Metro Manila to remain in its current quarantine status which is GCQ or General Community Quarantine.
Zamora said the main difference between the MGCQ and GCQ is that business and industries are allowed to open.
In the case of San Juan, Zamora said establishments are already able to open so he believes it’s better to remain under GCQ for his city at least.
“We’ve been under this crisis for 11 months already, and we’re already at the end. We just have to endure a little bit more. I can already see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro said the decision to relax quarantine measures should be based on the data on COVID-19 cases in the country. It should also be based not only on the recommendations of the economic experts but the health experts as well, Teodoro said in an interview with Unang Balita.
Zamora and Teodoro also opposed the reopening of cinemas.
“Kami po sa MMC (Metro Manila Council)…ang general consensus ng majority pabor na wag muna buksan, (We at the MMC…the general consensus is we’re not in favor of opening),” Zamora said.
Teodoro said: “Ako’y tumutol kaya kahapon [Feb. 15] naglabas ako ng executive order, inexercise ko yung local general welfare clause (I’m against it. That’s why I issued an executive order yesterday. I exercised the local general welfare clause.”
Under Teodoro’s EO, the reopening of cinemas. arcades, and similar establishments is suspended.
The Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), meanwhile, asked NEDA to take a second look at its recommendation to gradually allow persons between five years and 70 years old to go out of their houses as part of further reopening the national economy.
Dr. Cynthia Juico, who leads the PPS’ School Health Committee, rejected Chua’s proposal to place the entire country under MGCQ starting March 1, 2021.
“We have to study this again, we are terrified when the teenagers go
out. They huddle close to each other, it is alarming, how much more on the small children whom you cannot control,” she told the TeleRadyo in an interview.
She noted that currently, almost no children were hospitalized because of the government’s stricter imposition of stay-at-home rule.
But Chua said that further loosening of quarantine restrictions will address the high incidence of hunger among Filipino households.
Based on the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey last November, Metro Manila has the highest incidence of hunger at 23.3 percent, translating to about 780,000 families. In areas under a more relaxed form of community quarantine, the hunger incidence is lesser.
“Ang recommendation po namin ay dapat ibalanse po natin (Our recommendation should be balanced),” Chua said, citing a recent survey by
the Pulse Asia also in November, which showed that 73 percent of Filipinos wanted a balance between on the reopening of the economy and the control of the COVID-19.
Chua also cited another data showing that when the Cabinet approved the further re-opening of the economy in October last year, COVID-19 cases did not spike, nor did it go up during the year-end holiday season.
“Hindi naman po natin sinasabi na ibukas lang natin ang ekonomiska at wag na natin paki-alaman yung COVID cases (We are not saying that we reopen the economy and set aside COVID cases),” Chua clarified.
“Kailangan natin both (We need to address both).” Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), likewise proposed to expand the public transport capacity from 50 percent to 75 percent so that more Filipinos could get to work.
The NEDA chief likewise wanted more active transport support, such as additional bike lanes.
“And finally, nakita po namin na kulang po yung inter-province bus operation natin. Maraming pong manggagawa nung nag-ECQ [Enhanced Community Quarantine] bumalik sa probinsya at ngayon po hindi sila maka-balik ng ganap sa kanilang trabaho (And finaly, we found out the lack of inter-province bus operations. A number of workers who went home to the province when ECQ was declared cannot report for work),” Chua said.
Following a record economic contraction of 9.5 percent in 2020, Chua said the tradeoff is no longer between health and economy but between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 threats, such as hunger, poverty, and other disease.
NEDA estimated that each day of GCQ is costing the National Capital Region (NCR), Region 3, and Region 4A around P700 million in wages. (With reports from Noreen Jazul and Charissa Luci-Atienza)