What caused LGU quarantine anxiety?


The rural health unit of the Municipality of San Fernando in the province of Romblon implemented health protocols for incoming ferry passengers in the middle of March.

On March 13, my mother who just underwent eye surgery and a colleague who just went to Manila for a comprehensive health check-up decided to join the mass exodus from Luzon through Batangas pier after the declaration of community quarantine due to the increase of COVID-19 cases. Another wave of mass exodus happened on March 14. The Luzon-wide community quarantine started March 15 approved by the president as recommended by the national Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Land transport, seaport and airport management were unprepared. Health protocols were poor, no swab tests, and inefficient temperature checks. All were caught unprepared.

As early as January, before coming back to Manila, I saw how the local government units (LGU) of Romblon mobilized their ranks from the capitol down to the barangays. In port areas, healthworkers were all prepared to implement health protocols, from collecting data to checking temperature of arriving passengers. Ferry personnel patiently distributed pieces of small passenger forms to be filled up and surrendered to healthworkers upon arrival. Barangay officials and health workers (BHW) were all assigned at checkpoints in highways.

This was the first wave.

From March 15 to April 14, LGUs were at the forefront again. Together with national government agency (NGA) personnel, faith-based organizations (FBOs), civil society organizations (CSOs) and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and businesses, local officials pooled in resources to cope with the seemingly different disaster. It is a new and unique “disaster response”, thanks to the already established disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) system. It was in this period that Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was signed by the president.

Yes, FBOs, CSOs, MSMEs, local businesses and LGUs.

Though challenged and threatened, LGUs became creative, resourceful and patient.

Social distancing period.

SARS-COv-2 virus was spreading throughout the provinces.

Frontliners are heroes.

This was the second wave.

April 15 came. An enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was declared as recommended by the IATF with more stringent rules. It was in this period that the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) benefits under RA 11469 were distributed.

Long queues.

Mixed emotions. Happy and sad. Satisfied and glad. Confused and worried. Some were arrested.

Tired, sick and dead. Closed stores, carless roads and curfews.

Homesick, stranded and jobless.

Yet, LGUs with FBOs, CSOs, and the losing MSMEs and local businesses were all working together in communities.

Though challenged and threatened, LGUs became more creative, resourceful and patient.

We inhaled cleaner air and saw clear skies. It was April 30.

Social distancing became physical distancing. “Ayuda” became the most popular word.

This was the third wave.

May 1 saw two kinds of quarantine. ECQ and the newly minted general community quarantine (GCQ), which saw below 21 years old and 60 years and above confined within their homes.

More COVID-19 cases, more deaths but increasing recoveries.

Nature rests. More arrests.

But there must be hope in Executive Order No. 114, the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program or BP².

Yet, LGUs with FBOs, CSOs, and the losing MSMEs and local businesses were all still working together in communities.

On May 11, the IATF then lifted GCQ, declared ECQ areas under GCQ and some were still under ECQ; and other areas were declared under modified ECQ (MECQ).

On May 13, the IATF reversed its decision on the lifting of GCQ, made it modified GCQ (MGCQ); and at the end of the day changed it decision to just having ECQ, MECQ and considering the rest of the areas under GCQ, which was changed again to MGCQ through a resolution approved on May 15.

That very Wednesday, the Romblon Provincial IATF was moving mountains to study, interpret, and implement the GCQ lifting. To their dismay, before the meeting ended, GCQ was now in place again.

Imagine, LGU officials who braved Sibuyan Sea and Tablas Strait, who traveled from different islands in Romblon, to decide on the general welfare of their respective constituents went home in confusion and anxiety.

Yet, LGUs with FBOs, CSOs, and the losing MSMEs and local businesses were all still working together in communities.

This was the fourth wave.

All the blame and burden are heavily carried by these sprained LGUs.

Yet, starting May 15, with FBOs, CSOs, and the losing MSMEs and local businesses, they will still be working together in communities.

One COVID-19 patient recovered, but another was just confirmed infected.

Welcome to the fifth wave.

LGUs and their long time partners, the civil society, are not actually part of policy and decision making process of the national government to address this pandemic. They have no voice.

The Department of Interior and Local Government cannot just represent them.

This is not participatory governance. This is not democracy.

Is authorianism at work now?

I hope not.

Voices from below are necessary for an effective and efficient governance.

My mother’s eye is now healing, thanks to long distance medical correspondence. My colleague underwent a repeat of his laboratory tests and specimens were sent to Manila. He spent another week waiting for the results to be sent back to the island.