Editorial: Backriding confusion

THE national government’s policy on motorcycle backriding is confusing and mind-boggling at best.

Following the implementation of community quarantine across the country, motorcycle back riding has been banned due to the possibility of transmission. As movement restrictions have been eased, the public has been calling on the government to allow motorcycle backriding again because of the shortage of public transportation and fears of catching the virus in a jeep, bus, or taxi.

Finally, on July 10, 2020, the national government has allowed motorcycle back riding but with a catch.

When it was first announced on July 9, 2020, by Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año, he said it backriding will be allowed for couples -- married or live-in partners.

“Yes simula bukas ay papayagan na natin ‘yung backriding para sa mga couple... Living in the same household whether they are married or they are common-law husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend but they are living in the same household,” he said.

However, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified in a virtual press briefing that only married couples will be allowed to travel via backriding.

“Limitado pa rin po siya sa mga mag-asawa (it will be limited for married couples),” he was quoted saying in a report by the Philippines News Agency (PNA). Couples must be able to present proof when they are at the checkpoint.

Also, it was announced by government officials that for backriding to be allowed, there is a need to install barriers between the driver and passenger to prevent transmission.

However, another catch to all of these is, the national government has yet to release official written guidelines on this yet. The Joint Task Force (JTF) Covid Shield is currently crafting specific guidelines for motorcycle riders and backriders.

Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, JTF commander and Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy chief for operations, said the guidelines will be focused on the health and safety of the riders and ensure that persons pretending to be a couple would not be allowed to get past checkpoints.

Thinking about the recent guidelines on motorcycle backriding is confusing and frustrating. The main reason why the public is calling on the government to allow motorcycle back riding is to have an alternative means of transport with the shortage of public transportation. Therefore, only allowing backriding for married couples does not help solve the transportation woes of the family. Most wives are stay-at-home while those who work tend to be their children. The government should have allowed backriding for a family as a whole instead of just the married couples.

The barriers may not be necessary. First, it does not look safe. It is an accident waiting to happen and it is as if the government will pay for the medical cost if they get into an accident because of the barriers.

Second, it is an added cost to the family, who are economically struggling right now. Most of the people crafting the policy may not understand this because they have not experienced losing jobs or income amid the pandemic. The government has not yet issued a statement about whether it will pay for the barrier or not but it is safe to say that it will not should the cost of installation.

Third, it does not prevent the transmission of the virus. These are people who live together that we are talking about. A barrier is not an effective way to stop transmission because they still live in one roof. When one of them gets infected, the barrier on the motorcycle will not stop one from getting infected because they still live in the same house. The barriers may be used for motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) but we question its safety.

This is not the first time the government gave out confusing and questionable guidelines. This is not the first time the government has become messy when trying to communicate with the public.

What it should have done is to first craft the guidelines on back riding, assess the road safety and the economic viability of barriers on motorcycles, go back to ironing out the guidelines, sitting down together to discuss how to communicate it and make the announcement.

The Filipino people will follow whatever guidelines there are. However, it is the prerogative of the government to properly communicate this properly and clearly. It must not confuse the Filipino people. At the end of the day, it will be the Filipino people who will be blamed for how messy the government communicated its guidelines on motorcycle backriding.


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