Duterte meets with experts to decide lockdown
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is meeting with health experts and former heads of the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday to receive “critical information” that will help him decide whether to extend the Luzon lockdown anew or allow partial business reopenings to stave off an economic disaster.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Sunday that the critical information will be provided during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the temporary government body that oversees the administration’s response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The government, Guevarra said, cannot wait until the entire country reaches zero transmission, “as by then we may have hit the tipping point where it would be extremely difficult to recover from the economic and social devastation.”
President Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon on lockdown in mid-March, ordering half of the country’s population of 107 million to stay at home, shuttering schools and businesses, and suspending public transportation in a bid to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The lockdown was originally set to expire on April 13, but Mr. Duterte extended it to the end of April on the recommendation of the task force to prevent an almost certain resurgence of the virus.
By then, however, the economy was already so damaged that the government’s economic managers were talking of zero or, at best, minus 1 percent growth in the first quarter.
Businesses cautioned against another extension, recommending phased reopenings and selective shutdowns to stimulate the economy while suppressing the spread of the virus.
“We have to restart somewhere sometime, taking all necessary measures to prevent a resurgence, and imploring the aid of Divine Providence to get us through,” Guevarra said.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, the President’s former longtime aide who is now head of the Senate health committee, also spoke about Mr. Duterte’s meeting on Monday with health experts and former health secretaries to decide what steps to take after April 30.
Go said the next 11 days would be “crucial” as he appealed to the public to heed Mr. Duterte’s call for compliance with lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus.
“Honestly, our situation now is very difficult. As far as I know, the implementation of the [lockdown] will be firmer in the next 11 days until April 30,” Go said in a radio interview.
Decision this week?
“I think the President will decide within the week if there’s a need to extend or loosen [the lockdown],” he said.
Mr. Duterte, he said, first wants to hear the opinion of health experts and former health secretaries to balance the concerns of various sectors over the impact of the lockdown on the economy and public safety.
“The next few days will be crucial for us because we are hedged in. We are talking about people’s lives and their livelihood,” Go said.
“As a legislator, I want to put primacy on the life of every Filipino. But we also have to consider that they have to eat. We have to consider our economy,” he added.
On Sunday, the DOH reported 172 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the nationwide total to 6,259. It said 12 more patients died, raising the toll to 409. Fifty-six more patients recovered, pushing the number of survivors to 572, making Sunday the fifth straight day that recoveries outnumbered deaths.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, however, that only a sustained reduction in infections would work toward a decision to partially lift the lockdown.
“We should see a tapering off or downward trend to warrant partial lifting or continue with the lockdown,” Lorenzana told reporters on Sunday.
“The trend of [coronavirus] cases appearing every day will be the final determinant. That’s why these last 11 days of April are crucial in the decision-making process,” he said.
Lorenzana said he had directed Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., the military chief of staff, to deploy more troops to Metro Manila and other places where there were high numbers of coronavirus cases to strictly enforce the lockdown.
The military has deployed 2,000 troops to Metro Manila and has 2,000 more on standby.
Like martial law
President Duterte on Thursday threatened a “martial law-like” enforcement of the Luzon lockdown if violations of the quarantine measures continued. The warning followed reports of thousands of private motorists taking to the streets, especially in Metro Manila, despite Mr. Duterte’s stay-at-home orders.
Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Philippine National Police deputy chief for operations, said on Sunday that the Highway Patrol Group had been directed to set up checkpoints in the regions to enforce the lockdown. Gen. Archie Gamboa, the PNP chief, has authorized police regional directors to introduce measures that would ensure observance of quarantine regulations, he said.
Eleazar said the licenses of private motorists who would violate the lockdown would be confiscated. They would also be cited and fined, he said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Sunday said the military would enforce the lockdown only in areas where violations of quarantine measures were rampant.
“We expect that more arrests will be done, especially [of] those not only violating the quarantine but even engaging in other activities like drinking and gambling,” Año said.
Human rights violations
The crackdown, however, does not mean local officials can enforce lockdown rules with a high hand. Malacañang on Sunday urged the public to report human rights violations by local officials.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which oversees the local governments and the police service, and the PNP would “not tolerate any violation” of human rights during the lockdown.
Roque’s remarks came amid reports of abuses by some local officials in dealing with violators of lockdown measures.
Last week, the PNP reported the apprehension of 108,088 violators of the quarantine during the last 27 days. Luzon had the highest number of violators—64,946.
“While . . . protection measures spell the difference between life and death, they are implemented well within the rule of law, and are respectful of the human dignity and human rights of everyone,” Roque said.
—REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, JULIE M. AURELIO AND TINA G. SANTOS INQ
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