PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, March 16, ordered more than half of the Philippine population to stay at home with the declaration of an enhanced community quarantine in the entire Luzon until April 12, 2020 in a bid to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also urged the business sector to shut down operations if the situation worsens and release the 13th month pay of their employees, told property owners to give a moratorium on rental fees and charges, and asked utilities to give a one-month reprieve in bill payments as their contributions to the fight against Covid-19.
Under an enhanced community quarantine, more than 53 million residents of Luzon would be allowed very limited movement.
Public transportation systems would be suspended, food and health services would be regulated and more uniformed men would be deployed to implement quarantine measures.
“Everyone will stay at home, leaving their houses only to buy food and other necessities. Only establishments that sell necessities will be open,” Duterte said in a recorded address to the nation, which he read during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and broadcast nationwide Monday evening.
These measures mimic the lockdown imposed by the Chinese government in Wuhan City, where the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 originated.
Duterte stressed that he is not imposing martial law.
“Let me make this clear. This is not martial law... H’wag kayong matakot. Walang magdi-display ng baril dyan except the members of the armed forces,” he said.
Under the 1987 Constitution, martial law is declared when there is rebellion, invasion, and public safety requires it.
“Sa panahong ito, ang kalaban natin ay tayo at ang sakit na Covid. Let us make no mistake. We are in a fight for our lives. We are at war against a vicious and invisible enemy...In this extraordinary war, we are all soldiers,” the President said.
On where the people would get their food supply, Duterte said this would be the responsibility of the barangay captains.
“It behooves upon the barangay captain..This is a mandatory duty. It does not have to have a law. Because the proclamation suggests that there is really a need for you to work with the government,” he said.
“If there is a barangay captain who does not fulfill his duty in going around and trying to find out how the citizens are faring... if you are afraid to die of Covid-19, then you have no business being a barangay captain,” he added.
The enhanced community quarantine was declared less than 48 hours after a general community quarantine took effect in Metro Manila.
Under a general community quarantine, movement of people between Metro Manila and neighboring provinces was still allowed for purposes of work.
Despite efforts to strictly enforce social distancing measures, contact with other people could not be avoided as commuters queued for their turn at the MRT and LRT stations.
“We could not really control the contagion. We want it to be perfect. But there will be downsides,” Duterte said.
As of 9 p.m. Sunday, more than 20 hours after the general community quarantine took effect, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 140 Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths in the country.
Duterte said he decided to impose stricter measures and expand the quarantine to include the entire Luzon after studying worldwide trends and measures to combat Covid-19.
“For this reason, pursuant to my powers as President under the Constitution and Republic Act 11132, I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under quarantine until April 12, 2020, coinciding with the end of the Holy Week,” Duterte said.
“I cannot go into a guessing game. See, I have to act... If there is already a contagion and there are cases which need to be attended to, then government can move faster. It’s better to assume that it (contagion) is true because what you would need only is validation,” the President said.
On March 8, Duterte placed the country under a State of Public Health Emergency and raised the alert level to Code Red sub-level 2 as authorities confirmed the first cases of local transmission.
Patients 5 and 6, who were the first cases of local transmission, had died. They were among the 12 mortalities as of March 15. (MVI/SunStar Philippines)