Editorial: Gwen’s ‘futile’ stand

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia took a big risk in issuing Executive Order (EO) 19 that would allow backrides on motorcycles. She was willing to face charges and to explain why she was not aligned with policies set down by the National Government or the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

But when President Duterte put his foot down on the matter on Friday, June 5, 2020, Garcia toed the party line.

Duterte said he could not make exceptions. Not for Cebu, whose votes helped him win the presidential election four years ago. And not for Garcia, who has been and continues to be a staunch ally.

The governor and her team did their research before she came up with EO 19.

She cited Republic Act 4136, or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, which does not prohibit the practice, adding that there is no Supreme Court ruling that outlaws backriding on motorcycles.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recently issued Memorandum 2020-083 directing local government units (LGUs) to strictly prohibit the operation of motor taxis “as part of regulatory measures in public transportation in general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified general community quarantine areas.”

But Garcia’s EO was explicit that motorcycle drivers could not charge for a ride.

Lifting the restriction was her way of addressing the problem faced by many people who cannot get a ride to and from work because of the lack of public buses and jeepneys since the province was placed under GCQ status on May 20.

Aside from RA 4136, Garcia also has the support of the province’s seven congressional representatives.

She said the DILG memorandum that prevents LGUs from allowing backriders could not supersede what is stated in the law.

But the President had the last word.

The IATF banned backrides on motorcycles as part of social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

That was almost three months ago, when health authorities and the government had no idea what they were up against.

Much has changed, though, since then. Although Covid-19 cases have not disappeared, the disease’s mortality rate is lower compared to other common ailments like cardiovascular diseases. Majority of those infected are also asymptomatic.

Armed with these data, the governor has been forging policies that are commensurate to the seriousness of the problem at hand.

But in this case, it seems the feared pandemic may have clouded common sense.