Nalzaro: Harmonizing policies

Bobby Nalzaro


Territorial jurisdiction conflicts between local government units (LGUs) in the implementation of quarantine restrictions amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic could be avoided if the national or regional Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will do a pro-active role in its mandate and functions. Pro-active is taking an active role in dealing with something before it needs to be taken care of.

I can say that the IATF is remiss in its duties and functions for not foreseeing some events. Its non-pro-active role has caused confusion among LGUs and the public in general.

Consider this.

Gov. Gwen Garcia was fuming mad as she lashed out at Cebu City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) deputy chief implementer Joel Garganera for misrepresentation. Gwen’s ire stemmed from the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) policy that incoming domestic passengers have to present a “letter of acceptance” from the Office of the Governor or from the LGU of their destination.

The MCIA reportedly implemented the order following the issuance of a memorandum by Garganera, whose area of jurisdiction is limited only to Cebu City, unless Garganera was acting in behalf of the IATF.

Upon learning of the policy, Gwen blew her top. She immediately scrapped the policy, explaining she never issued the order.

Garganera, for his part, denied participating in dealing with inbound passengers for both the airport and seaports since late last year.

Conflicts such as this could have been avoided had the IATF done its role.

Every LGU has its own policy with regard to the coronavirus response and has been given leeway by the IATF to implement quarantine protocols.

We know already that the governor has relaxed travel requirements and restrictions in the province. But in cases like this, to avoid public confusion and not to make travelers’ lives miserable, there should be a harmonized and uniform policy among LGUs. And I think only the IATF can impose policies for uniformity purposes.

The IATF should not delegate that discretion to LGUs to avoid confusion. Mahulog nga kanya-kanya naman na. Og taga Bohol pay pasultihon, “Ija-ija na man na.”

In Bohol and Negros Oriental, even local travelers have to present swab tests and undergo 14-day quarantine upon arrival at their destination. Other LGUs do not implement this policy.

This is very tedious process and will discourage local tourists to travel. Upon consultation of various local chief executives, the IATF should have the final say to implement such requirements or restrictions. I think Gwen will not complain if the order came from the IATF.

It’s time to revisit the IATF mandate and functions.

Signed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 through Executive Order 168, the IATF has the following mandate:

a) Establish a system to identify, screen and assist Filipinos suspected or confirmed to be infected with an emerging infectious disease (EID);

b) Prevent and/or minimize the entry of suspected or confirmed patients with EID into the country. This should include rigid screening and identification of EID suspects and the institutionalization of a surveillance, alert and quarantine system in all ports of entry;

c) Prevent and/or minimize local spread of EID in the country through the establishment or reinforcement of a system in screening possible patients infected with EID, contact tracing identification of the mode of exposure to the virus and implementation of effective quarantine and proper isolation procedures;

d) Prevent and/or minimize mortality through effective clinical management by capacitating healthcare facilities, government and private medical practitioners, healthcare workers and public safety enforcers;

e) Educate the public on EID and its prevention, control and management to promote positive health behaviors and address public fear and anxiety through the conduct of a nationwide EID awareness campaign;

f) Adopt measures to strengthen the Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases Program of the DOH or its equivalent in other local health units;

g) Notify World Health Organization of the EID cases in the country and its assessment of the EID situation;

h) Submit to the Office of the President regular status reports in the monitoring of EID;

i) Formulate, develop, implement and oversee the EID Preparedness Manual for the prevention and control of EID and;

j) Perform such other functions and activities as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Order or as the President may direct.

The IATF is composed of the following agencies: Department of Health, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Justice, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Tourism, Department of Transportation and Department of Information and Communications Technology. This composition is being replicated in the regional level.


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