The initial announcement caused alarm and it might have been because of the language used.
Local government units, backed by members of the Philippine National Police, would go house to house to remove persons who tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) but are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and take them to a quarantine facility.
However, it didn’t help that Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año also called on the public to report to authorities Covid-19 cases in their neighborhood or persons they know who have the disease.
Understandably, what ensued was confusion, fanned by accusations that vilified the Duterte administration for allegedly violating the constitutional right of persons to be secure in their homes.
Even Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra distanced himself from the plan, saying he was not informed about it. He said the police should only play a supporting role in the government’s efforts to locate Covid-19 patients.
Critics likened Oplan Kalinga to Oplan Tokhang.
The day after the DILG announcement, Malacañang issued a clarification.
Mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 patients would be transferred to quarantine facilities by health workers, not by police. Police presence during the conduct of Oplan Kalinga “is merely to provide support or assistance in the transport of patients and the implementation of lockdown in the affected area,” according to Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
Here in Cebu, Police Regional Office 7 Director Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro said the police would be accompanied by health personnel of the Cebu City Government along with analysts, civilian interviewers and members of the military.
This was confirmed by Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, who was recently appointed deputy chief implementer of the Inter-Agency Task Force Emergency Operations Center.
Garganera said the City’s contact tracing teams would be working in tandem with police and military personnel and members of the Bureau of Fire Protection.
The DILG should bear in mind that the country’s major urban areas have been on community quarantine since March. Many have lost their jobs. Many have only been outside their homes for a brief period of time.
The situation coupled with the uncertainty of the future have wreaked havoc on the people’s mental state.
The DILG should choose its words carefully the next time it makes an announcement that concerns the public and law enforcement agencies to prevent unnecessary anxiety.