Briones: Easing restrictions

Publio J. Briones III
·3 min read

I DON’T know what it’s like in other countries, but I’m pretty sure that in the United States, a person caught outside without a face mask is not penalized or taken into custody.

In fact, some people there insist that the mandatory wearing of mask violates “the First Amendment right to speech, assembly and especially association” as well as “a person’s constitutional right to liberty and to make decisions about their own health and body integrity.”

Of course, we are living in extraordinary times.

The world is in the grips of a pandemic that targets the elderly and those with comorbidities. More than half a million have already died in the US, which has a population of over 300 million people, because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

But I hate to break it to a lot of people here in our archipelago who are living under the delusion that we and Uncle Sam are joined at the hip. We are not. The Americans let us go, sort of, back on July 4, 1946, when it granted us our independence.

But hey, at least here we don’t share the same sense of entitlement as our former colonizer because many of our brothers and sisters are too busy trying to survive.

So when our government tells us that we have to wear a mask when we go outside and we have to wear a face shield on top of the mask when we enter some establishments and board public transportation to minimize the risk of disease transmission, we do so without question.

When armed police personnel accost pedestrians and arrest them for violating this protocol, we look the other way.

In the beginning, it made sense. The government was at war with an invisible enemy. It had no choice but to impose draconian measures to prevent an outbreak.

But as of Friday, April 16, 2021, the death toll in Cebu, which has a population of roughly five million people and I’m talking about the province and the independent cities combined, is less than 2,000.

In fact, in both the US and Cebu, the number of deaths is less than one percent of their total population.

Again, I don’t mean to belittle or disregard the pain felt by the families and loved ones of those who perished. But here in the Philippines, authorities may have been a tad overzealous in dealing with this health crisis.

Already our economy “shrank 9.5 percent in 2020 as coronavirus pandemic-induced restrictions caused a slump in economic activities.”

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has been trying to address this by focusing on reviving the tourism industry and doing away with “illogical impositions.”

On Friday, Garcia announced that in the province, people caught not wearing a mask outdoors would no longer be fined.

“It’s hard for our people now to eke out a living pabayaron pana nimo. We are kinder to criminals than to violators of this mask wearing thing.”

Indeed.

In Cebu City, Mayor Edgardo Labella can even go one step farther by opening the Cebu City Sports Center to the public. Ahem.