Amid opposition from some health experts and local officials, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) stressed Saturday, Feb. 20, the need to implement a less stricter Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) for the entire country starting March this year to harmonize the the fragmented travel regulations mandated by the localities nationwide.
DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya emphasized this after the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) made the recommendation to President Duterte.
However, some health experts insisted that placing the whole country under MGCQ will necessitate more people to be vaccinated to prevent the spike of the virus.
Currently, the DILG, uniformed personnel and the local government units (LGUs) are launching an uphill battle to entice more qualified individuals to trust the country’s national vaccination program.
“There is a need to harmonize and streamline the different travel restrictions imposed by LGUs to domestic travelers. These vary from province to province,’’ Malaya said.
Malaya said the DILG “see the urgent need to remove redundancy in domestic tourist travel requirements and impose less stringent requirements by managing the health risks through other means.’’
The DILG official revealed that the department has organized a technical working group that is currently working with the various local government leagues under Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) to streamline local regulations for domestic travel as well as recommend best options to encourage domestic travel for leisure to revive the heavily-hit travel and tourism sector and related industries while managing the risks of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) transmission.
“The people are confused about travel regulations because they vary from province to province. While some LGUs require a travel authority, some do not. Some LGUs require antigen test, some do not. Some LGUs require polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, some do not. Some even require 14-day quarantine regardless of PCR result. We need the regulations to be streamlined and placing the country under one classification would help in the on-going harmonization,” he added.
Malaya pointed out that authorities want to assure that the regulations “we impose are consistent with scientific data on prevention of COVID-19 transmission.”
Citing figures from NEDA, Malaya noted that quarantine restrictions put in place since March 2020 has caused a total income loss of P1.04 trillion that year.
On average, Malaya said that it translated to P2.8 billion in salaries lost — or an annual income loss of P23,000 per worker.
However, Malaya clarified that a less restrictive quarantine classification or the harmonization of domestic travel regulations would not abandon health protocols in total disregard of the pandemic.
He said that 30 percent of the public still cannot go to work and 50 percent of the people cannot take public transport.
“People need to be able to commute to go to work or to earn a living,” Malaya lamented.
Malaya said that the domestic airline industry has also asked the DILG to address this issue since the local air carriers have accumulated a P47.4 billion net income loss as of September of last year alone.
“Despite the reopening of major regional airports, the domestic airline industry has seen a slump in domestic passengers and domestic cargo carried due to fragmented LGU regulations compared to our ASEAN neighbors where Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have already revived their domestic travel industry to 2019 levels,” Malaya ended.