Seares: ECQ passes: Modify rule or plan. Don’t put people at risk of starvation or arrest.

News Sense

CEBU City Hall has estimated the city’s population at a million people and it printed 250,000 “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) passes. Under lockdown prompted by the coronavirus crisis, people in the city cannot get out of their homes except for food, medical and other necessities. And for that, one needs an ECQ pass, which the city cannot provide every household.

Actually, in the last census in 2015, Cebu City had only 922,600 population and 213,781 households. Even with the increase from the 2015 figures, reckoning by the growth rate from 2010-2015, the 2020 population would still be less than a million (about 982,729) and the number of households would be less than 250,000, the number of ECQ passes printed.

Causes of shortage

But, City Hall now says, there are not enough passes to meet the one-pass-per-household goal.

What may explain the shortage: (1) City Hall got the wrong numbers, or (2) a number of households are getting more than one pass and many more ECQ passes were diverted to friends and other people close to the pass-givers.

What usually spoils the best intention of government? Influence of vested interests. Politicians and underlings of politicians are deciding and implementing the rules. Inevitably, those close to power use their access and influence to enjoy privileges denied to the common people. If there’s another explanation, City Hall is not telling us.

What to do?

They cannot meet the one-ECQ-pass-per-household promise. Which means most households cannot send out anyone to buy necessities or secure medical and other essential services. What to do then?

Print more passes, as Mayor Edgardo Labella reportedly announced Wednesday, April 1. That’s a solution, although they’d be pressed to enforce harder the limited use of the pass.

City Hall earlier tossed the problem to barangay captains, telling them to be “creative.” But that creativity wouldn’t include allowing barangay captains to issue barangay passes of their own. It will confuse the police, City Hall said.

But how complex would checking a barangay pass be, compared to or in addition to checking a City Hall pass? Unlike the Capitol-City Hall dilemma, the rules are the same within the city, with the barangay sharing the interest of the city. The barangay is a unit of the city, which is the sum of the barangays within its territory.

Filling void or lack

The barangay pass, in the absence of the City Hall pass, would fill a void. It would not compete with the City Hall pass, which, remember, they cannot provide each household. There would be no clash of guidelines or authority.

An alternative is for City Hall to change or modify the rules.

Few, if at all, quarrel with the goal: to keep as many people as possible within their homes but at the same time provide ways for essential services to continue and residents to go out for their food and medical supplies and services. Even with the ECQs, people’s outing may still be reduced by checking on the out-of-home trip; the pass must not be used for purposes other than the cause of the exemption.

Fighting over ECQ pass

If City Hall cannot provide each household an ECQ pass, thousands of households face the dilemma of starving in their houses or risking arrest if they go out for provisions. All right, the starvation threat may be a stretch. But not for several households that cannot afford to have their provisions delivered or to stock up and must be content with trips to the neighborhood mall or the market. As conflict-journalism teacher Karlon N. Rama puts it in an April 1 stirring call on Facebook, the ECQ passes “represent a life-saving resource that is limited.” “People will fight over it or fight City Hall to get it,” he wrote.

With or without

Councilor Raymond Garcia is right: barangays can be resourceful/creative. But not if their hands are tied by rules that deciders at City Hall impose.

City Hall executives could modify or refine the rule: People out of their homes may be accosted for their identification and purpose. Police, with barangay tanods, must know enough to distinguish the essential trip from the non-essential ones.

With or without the ECQ pass.


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