Editorial: Backriding

FOR weeks on end, the issue of motorcycle backriding has persistently surfaced. And only rightly so, considering the much-needed mobility that many of our citizens need to pick up financially after a three-month drought under strict quarantine.

In fact, so necessary is that bit of mobility that it’s like the poor man’s version of the business sector’s plea to allow the reopening of establishments. These are all the same prayer—from top to bottom, we all seek the economic instruments to get back on track under the “new normal.”

It was Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who in an executive order earlier paved the way for motorcycle backriding for couples as the Province transitioned into the general community quarantine. It was a decision sufficiently informed not only by a careful look at the laws related to it, but by a well grounded picture of how the citizens’ lives proceed in the towns.

Any enterprising policy-maker would have understood that a good number of households rely on the motorcycle for the much needed mobility for their livelihood. There is a dearth of public transport in rural areas, even in cities at this point in the GCQ. Families have invested on motorcycles as a matter of survival. Deprive them of that means, and you’d damn them good to financial paralysis.

Sadly, though, policy tilts against that sector’s favor. No less than President Rodrigo Duterte had cited a Department of Transportation (DOTr) guideline banning backriding regardless of family relations. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases approved the guideline in a resolution governing GCQ rules. The point being that backriding exposes persons to possible Covid-19 transmission.

The governor, however, cited in contention that the IATF guideline did not sit well with Republic Act 4136, which allows backrides up to anyone within 4th civil degree of consanguinity provided it is non-paying. The pandemic, however, changes the rules.

To recall, Land Transportation Office (LTO) 7 Director Victor Caindec later in May suggested on his social media account that a sweeping go for backrides was better than granting exemptions.

The exemptions would pose enforcement problems, citing ground experience in LTO-manned checkpoints where inspection would entail arduous efforts, exposing everyone involved to virus transmission instead. LTO personnel had to ask for documentary proof from the couples, and most often the latter could not provide one.

Not to be left out in the discussion as well is the opening of a possible window for motorcycle taxis to feign around the exemption. The times are desperate for our citizens; people strive hard to survive under the quarantine. It is one sector as well that had grown exponentially in recent times.

So it’s a difficult balance, but it can certainly be addressed by a large amount of concern for the affected sectors. The discussions for alternatives must continue.