"Possibly, ECQ will be lifted. It will be MECQ or GCQ. But this will depend on the experts... on the IATF." -- Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, May 26, 2020
And IATF and its experts have decided.
The National Government, through the Inter-Agency Task Force for Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), announced Wednesday, May 27, to place Cebu City under modified enhanced community quarantine from June 1 to 15.
That's MECQ. Meaning, Cebu City will still be under ECQ, with some changes. And, under IATF's Resolution #40, Cebu City will be the lone LGU in Cebu and the rest of the Visayas not moved to GCQ. Even high-to-moderate-risk areas in the National Capital Region will shift to GCQ.
The enhanced quarantine, the severest classification during the emergency brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, has covered the city since March 28. Two expiry dates gave it new lease on life: April 28 and May 15. With a third, May 31, coming in the next three days.
ECQ, what Cebu City has now, and MECQ, what it will have starting June 1, are basically the same, particularly on IATF guidelines. Same restriction on movement of people and transportation, limiting them to "essential" businesses and "indispensable services."
Harry Roque, presidential spokesman on most affairs of state, including handing of the coronavirus crisis, said not long ago:
"The difference between ECQ and MECQ is that we will resume the economy little by little. We will have operations in select manufacturing and processing plants up to 50 percent of their capacity." IATF is supposed to issue the list before June 1.
Apparently, this is part of the balancing between "saving lives" and "saving livelihoods" that is involved in decisions on whether to reopen a province, city, town or country, including the small community in a sitio, purok or zone. And clearly here, the "saving lives" part overwhelms the economic aspect.
Prudent LGU stance
Local government leaders these days are fond of saying that their decisions will be "fact-driven" or "science-based" and will "rely on the experts."
That is as sound and prudent as any leader can get. The pandemic has not created a situation for the popular will to decide or the rule of the majority to prevail. Our elected leaders are presumed to carry out the popular sentiment. We don't vote on each strategy against Covid-19. Not yet anyway, unless a community or country reaches the edge of the cliff and takes a vote on whether to jump or stay still en masse.
Not heard: economic experts
A governor or mayor has to trust the experts, unless he or she is one, which is highly unlikely. To be a health or economic expert, a rule of thumb says, one has to spend 10,000 hours or about 10 years on the problem, much of which must be spent in an actual pandemic or recession. The next best thing is to have a Dr. Tony Fauci of sorts, or a Dr. James Menardos, at one's side. But which expert has been missing?
If there must be balancing between lives and livelihoods, the heavier weight in the scale is on lives. Rightly so but, as pointed out by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, what's the school without the living student? My mother used to say, What's with the hay if the horse is dead?
Still, experts who will help revive trade and industry must be heard as well. The public has heard all kinds of advice on health and some ideas where this plague is taking us health-wise. But not on how to survive economic ruin and to revive people's means of livelihood. Are they only for the government leaders' ears?
That's why the balancing of competing goals must be carefully done, as Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella said, "with circumspect."
But when the mayor said "this will depend on IATF," he must not mean the IATF alone. The panel, looking at the forest from the data sent to it, may not see the trees that only the local officials can see. Despite what the idiom signifies, knowing the trees matters, just as seeing the treetops from afar does.
Both the governor and the Cebu City mayor have consulted, separately, with business leaders and entrepreneurs on the problem of reopening.
Chief executive's decision
That sector's view will help. But the decision still rests largely one the local chief executive. While IATF and the office of the president call the shots, the governor or mayor can make the community voice be heard.
Mayors Labella of Cebu City, Zoilo Cortes of Mandaue City and Samsam Gullas of Talisay City were heeded on their disagreement with IATF on what would've been a shift to GCW last May 16.
They don't have to sit back and accept the continued ECQ, even with some changes, if they believe they should move on a bit faster. They can appeal, make some noise. Let it not be said that they were in default when taking the bold stand mattered.