Saturday, July 31, 2021

Malilong: Case to be filed vs IATF over test, quarantine protocols

The Other Side

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has chosen the IATF guidelines over that of the province of Cebu for the testing of new international arrivals at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. But who is going to enforce his decision?

The last time I heard, inbound passengers were still being tested upon arrival, consonant with the Capitol policy. The IATF protocol is that testing for Covid-19 should be conducted on the seventh day from arrival.

Echoing Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the Department of Health 7 claimed that what they’re doing is not a deviation but an innovation of the IATF policy since the passengers would still be tested again on the seventh day.

They have a point. The issue is not the number of tests but the length of the mandated quarantine. Capitol says it should not exceed three days if the test proves negative, subject to further isolation at home and swabbing on the seventh day. The IATF, on the other hand, requires longer confinement in accredited hotels, a rule that the Capitol decries for overburdening Cebuanos returning home from abroad.

So the question is, who decides when to release an inbound passenger from quarantine and whose protocol should he follow? If he chooses the Capitol’s, wouldn’t that be regarded as an act of defiance of the President? He is not known for tolerance, in case we have forgotten.

The clash of protocols has become a national issue with a number of senators expressing support for the Capitol. It could be that they are politicking considering that our wealth of votes could tilt the balance between winning and losing in next year’s elections. But it is also highly possible that they see IATF’s — and Malacanang’s — interference as unwarranted overreach and violative of local autonomy and are genuinely concerned.

The issue may yet reach the courts. No, it is not Garcia or the province suing. Doing so could be interpreted only as a challenge to the President even if her targets are the IATF and their consultants as Duterte has already categorically declared that he favors the IATF’s position. No matter how strongly she feels for the inconvenienced Cebuano OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos), I do not think she is prepared to throw down the gauntlet at this stage.

Instead, the suit will be filed by a group led by lawyer and newspaper columnist Paul Oaminal, according to a Facebook post by law professor Ben Cabrido Jr. who will be the petitioners’ counsel. Among those who have indicated their willingness to join the petition are former Mandaue City Prosecutor Bienvenido Mabanto Jr., former Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Elberto Emphasis and the governor’s brother, Byron.

Cabrido did not say when he is going to file the petition for declaratory relief, but it should be soon since the issue has dragged for some time already. The suit is a special civil action that seeks from the Court a determination of the interpretation or validity of a law or regulation.

The petitioners are expected to ask the Court to rule on the validity of the IATF swabbing and quarantine rules in the light of their apparent conflict with the Local Government Code. The Solicitor General will be furnished a copy of the petition.

It’s going to be an interesting legal tussle and Cabrido, Oaminal and the other petitioners deserve appreciation for taking the first move to make it happen.


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