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Cargo workers’ woes in Masbate COVID-19 measure serve as warning to future delivery men: Don’t go there

/ 04:27 PM March 26, 2020

The cargoes are important, but cargo workers are not, or so it seems, as authorities at a port in Southern Luzon insisted on taking the trucks carrying food and medicine, while leaving behind the drivers and helpers at the ships.

Most of these workers were bringing cargoes from Metro Manila, the first place in the country to be put in a lockdown to curb the spread of SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes the pneumonia-like disease COVID-19.

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Despite already passing several checkpoints, the workers were not allowed to leave their ships, which remain docked at the Port of Masbate until late afternoon of Thursday (March 26). At least three ships are keeping cargo workers inside.

The Inquirer had earlier reported the plight of these workers, who are components the supply chain who are often overlooked by the same people who need them to do their jobs especially in a health crisis — to bring the food people need to survive, to bring the medicine that could help save lives.

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These cargo workers were bringing essential goods, such as rice, sardines, disinfectants, and even oxygen tanks.

A number of phone interviews with the workers stuck in two of the ships paint a picture of desperation, made a little more hopeless by the irony that they are running out of food and water, while safeguarding trucks carrying food that they themselves are not allowed to eat.

The Inquirer still hadn’t made any contact with the third ship, but a source said it arrived at the port on Thursday (March 26).

‘They want the cargoes, not us’

The two other ships, however, had been there since Tuesday (March 24) night. On Wednesday (March 25) afternoon, they were told they could finally leave the ships after they were disinfected and quarantined for 12 hours. And so they were disinfected and quarantined.

They were also told to list down their contact details, a list which Masbate Gov. Antonio Kho would have to sign if they were to be allowed to unload from the port, one driver said. On Thursday, however, only their cargoes were allowed out of the ships.

In total, the two ships initially carried 35 trucks, and more or less 70 cargo workers. But some of these trucks had already been taken out of the ships.

The Inquirer previously reported 20 trucks and 40 workers, but that was because the paper only had contact with one ship that time.

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Some of the workers talked to the Inquirer under the condition of anonymity. In the background, the Inquirer heard authorities shouting at them from the port, while other workers were heard coaching their driver to make sure their plight is told right.

On Thursday, the authorities had begun taking some of the trucks, with the owners of the trucks sending other drivers to fetch the cargoes instead. Some drivers in the ships had no choice but to give in.

“They get mad when we don’t let our trucks unload the cargoes. We’re already begging them. If they leave us at the ship, we wouldn’t have anything to eat, not even water to drink, or to bathe in. We don’t have clean clothes left,” said one driver.

“They get other drivers when we don’t agree to their demand. They want to get our rice, but then they would leave us. What about us?” he added.

So far, they have been getting by the kindness of locals who bought food for them and handed it to them aboard a small boat. Authorities gave them water and some bread later.

At least one truck driver refused to let someone else take his truck. He said they were not even offered any document that would clearly draw the line on the liability for the cargo, in case it gets lost or damaged.

“Other drivers have no choice because their bosses made the call [to send other drivers]. But this truck is mine. I just can’t trust anyone,” he said.

“What if it gets damaged? What if it gets lost? Where will I get it after? I already paid a lot for that,” he said.

The executive order made it legal

Masbate is politically a part of Luzon, and therefore also part of the enhanced community quarantine imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The province itself had passed its own executive order, which might have formed the basis for the treatment of the workers.

Under Executive Order No. 8 of the province of Masbate, the crew is not allowed to leave the ship. Only the cargoes are, after they had been disinfected at the port of entry for at least 12 hours. It was dated and made effective immediately on March 23.

No crew member shall be allowed to disembark from the vessel at any point or anywhere near the port, the order read under section 8 called “absolute non-disembarkation.” A copy of the order is posted on the official Facebook page of the local government.

Masbate later amended this EO through EO no. 11, which amended the section on the unloading and release of cargoes. It was dated and made effective on March 25.

The latest EO, which was again uploaded on the Facebook page, said that the cargoes shall be “unloaded, disinfected and released to the shippers’ representatives in the province of Masbate immediately and without delay.”

The Inquirer tried to reach out repeatedly to Jonathan Malaya, a spokesperson and undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, but he has not yet responded as of late afternoon on Thursday.

The Inquirer had also tried to reach out to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who had previously stressed that cargo movement should be unhampered, a promise that the workers thought also applied to them. Lopez has not yet responded.

‘We’re not sick’

This has been a problem for more than a week now, at least for the drivers and helpers in the two ships the Inquirer talked to.

It began on March 17, when the trucks first arrived at the Port of Pio Duran. They had to stay at the port for five days because they were told that no ship could ferry them to the Port of Masbate because of the lockdown.

They said they weren’t allowed to use the restroom at the port. They had to use their own money to get food. They stayed in their trucks.

Then, on March 21, they were allowed to ride the two ships to the Port of Masbate, only to be told to go back on the same day and secure quarantine passes. They were also told to just leave the cargoes in Masbate then.

“We have already gone past too many checkpoints [coming from Metro Manila], nearly 40 of them, and we were allowed to pass,” one of the drivers said on Wednesday.

Their body temperatures were checked, and no one was sick.

“But when we got here in Masbate, we weren’t allowed. They said we might be sick. They said we might be carrying the virus,” he said.

Edited by TSB

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .

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