There is a bit of good news for motorists and our home-bound populace that have been restricted to “stay in place” these past several months due to the pandemic. Last weekend, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced that beginning March 2021, the country would be shifting to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) from its existing general community quarantine (as applied in a number of places including Metro Manila). This was welcomed by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) which expressed support for a country-wide most lenient quarantine controls for a faster economic recovery. For its part, the DILG said that easing quarantine restrictions would deal with the confusion caused by different travel restrictions imposed by local governments across the country and hasten economic activity.
Now the DILG certainly hits the nail right in the head of what has bedeviled our commuters and motorists in this entire period of how the Philippines has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. And that is, for the most part, it has been left mainly to mayors and governors particularly outside of Metro Manila to devise their own methods and stratagem in controlling the spread of COVID-19 or in protecting their constituencies from the virus. This lack of a central coordinating mechanism in terms of traffic and travel management nation-wide speaks of the lack of attention by those responsible for the country’s pandemic response in considering the plight of ordinary citizens or the commuting public who for one reason or another have to embark on the road.
The DILG itself recognizes this vacuum of leadership when it noted in its recent press release that there exist “fragmented” travel rules being imposed by local government units (LGUs) across the country, and that there is a need to “harmonize and streamline” the different travel restrictions as these vary from province to province. “Placing the entire country under one quarantine classification would allow the DILG to harmonize the fragmented travel regulations across the country,” emphasized the DILG spokesperson. Now why is that being said just right now when as a matter-of-fact, problems ranging from people bicycling for days just to reach their destination or of families or groups being stranded in one town as they cannot go through the checkpoint of another municipality, etc., have appeared in news these past several months. These “sad stories” point to the reality that our travel and transportation rules have been in virtual chaos with local governments (LGU) doing what they deem to be best for their people yet their actions could have negative impacts on travelers or commuters entering their jurisdiction.
Yet it is better late than never; so we would like to commend the initiative of DILG to organize a technical working group that is currently working with the various local government leagues “to streamline local regulations for domestic travel as well as recommend best options to encourage domestic travel for leisure to revive the heavily-hit travel and tourism sector and related industries while managing the risks of COVID-19 transmission.” But then again, it should not just be the DILG that should be addressing this predicament of the commuting public and our motorists nationwide but other pertinent agencies as well such as the Department of Tourism (DOT). DOT has to upscale its presence and ability to support this nation-wide MGCQ by coming up with an updated travel guidelines that are validated by the science and the lessons that we have learned about COVID-19 prevention and control in the Philippines as well as in other countries. A cursory look at the Internet reveals that the DOT guidelines known as Memorandum Circular No. 2020-003 was issued way back in June 5, 2020. A lot of water has gone under the bridge and the DOT has to up its game to help the public resume their travel and road trips which the MGCQ is supposed to unleash.
For our fellow motorists and Metro Manilans who are itching to go on the road to chase away the pandemic blues, the key word is CAUTION. The virus is still very much out there and there could be no way of controlling it without the vaccination that is still not happening for most Filipinos according to those in the government’s vaccination board. So individual and family safety measures should be strictly followed on the road — face masks, frequent hand washing, social distancing particularly for people who are not in your immediate circle, and refrain from activities where you have to be enclosed or indoors with no outside air/ventilation for hours. Let us always keep safe!
(UPDATE: President Rodrigo Duterte last Monday said that MGCQ will not be pushing through this March as planned.)