AT A press-con Thursday, October 1, Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama asked that the city lift the quarantine ban that restricts persons aged 60 and above to their homes during the Covid-19 quarantine.
Senior citizens -- at least 12,000 in Cebu City and 7.5 million in the country (as of the 2015 census) -- have been confined in their residences for about five months, going into the sixth month, now. That's counting from the May 1-15 period when the national government imposed ECQ or enhanced community quarantine nationwide with a few areas under GCQ or general community quarantine.
"Already too much, too much," VM Mike Rama, 66 this October 28, wailed on the plight of seniors. "Di man intawon igat ang mga seniors oy."
NATURE OF THE BAN. It is a requirement laid down by the IATF-MEID or Inter-agency Task Force for Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases. The IATF guidelines, approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, says the seniors shall be "required to remain at their residence at all times..." Required, not encouraged, as VM Rama said he would've wanted it to be phrased.
And it is a requirement on top of the usual health rules of wearing face mask and shield and physical distancing. Which keeps the seniors locked up, even if they are not so reckless as to go mask-less and shield-less and want to rock and roll with the crowd, or so Rama's argument goes.
The ban applies to every kind of quarantine: enhanced CQ, general CQ, and the modified version of each, MECQ or MGCQ. In other words, there is no quarantine where the ban is not included in the health protocol.
IATF indeed removed the ban last June 1 when it started MGCQ or modified general quarantine, supposedly the most relaxed CQ form. All residents under MGCQ, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque at the time said, are "free to leave their homes." "100 per cent puwede," he beamed. Four days later, he took his word back. The IATF changed its mind, Roque explained. Since then, the ban has stayed, uniformly phrased in the section of the guidelines for the four kinds of quarantines.
On the first day of the new set of MGCQ for Cebu City, its #2 highest official publicly raised his view. Earlier, in March, he said he privately talked with Mayor Edgardo Labella, 69, for the easing of the restriction. Rama said, "We seniors in government are enjoying freedom to move around. The rest of our colleagues are confined in their houses."
WHAT RAMA DOESN'T HIGHLIGHT. The vice mayor has focused on the general prohibition. He has not highlighted these parts of the rule, which make the ban on seniors look less draconian:
 It is not only the age-60-and-plus who are ordered to stay at home in all the various kinds of quarantine. Covered by the guidelines are, in the order of listing: (a) those below 21; (b) the seniors; (c) those who are health risks; and (d) pregnant women.
 It is not an absolute and total ban. There are exceptions to the rule. Seniors, minors and the others in the ban list can go out of their houses when the trip is "indispensable": (a) to obtain essential goods and services or (b) for work in industries in permitted industries, offices, or (c) for other activities permitted by the guidelines.
It's not just the age-60-and-above who are targeted but also others similarly situated. And those covered by the ban can go out for essential purposes.
BASIS FOR BAN. The underlying reason for the ban on the elderly, the young, the sick, and the pregnant women is that they are more vulnerable to infection by coronavirus. It is a protective, not repressive measure, said one IATF official. It is borne by science and medicine, said Harry Roque, the president's spokesman.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US recommends a policy based on universal acceptance of the medical fact that risk for severe illness from Covid-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk. Our IATF has obviously adopted that policy. The task force believes that with underlying medical conditions, the factor of age increases the senior's health risk.
The question of constitutionality is something else. A retired government official, Eugenio Insigne, 68, in his petition before the Supreme Court, said the ban on seniors and others have curtailed their human rights and deprived them of the right to due process without consultation.
But few others have made a fuss over the ban. Even the core issue, without the legal facets, is not brought up. Senior groups in Cebu City have been quiet or they are not being sought out by media. For now, it is only VM Rama who is making noise here, an "advocacy" that he started, he said, early on, before the threat of coronavirus became the huge health crisis that it is now.
On other questions as well, there has been no serious dissent, unlike, say, in the US where some Americans have made the rule on face masks and shields a constitutional issue. Here, some Filipino Catholic bishops earlier wondered about the restrictions on attendance in church worship, when most churches are large buildings. Yet the clergy has obeyed.
Over-all, people accept the authority of the national government, the IATF and the LGU even though at times the enforcers cannot cite the specific law or ordinance punishing the offense and supporting the legality of arrest and detention. The consensus is that the government under the Constitution has the power and duty to protect and promote public health.
IMPROVING WAYS OF ENFORCEMENT. Apparently, it is the enforcement by police and other authorities that has made the ban on seniors more severe than it actually is.
Aside from the CQ pass that is still required in Cebu City under MGCQ -- which other similarly quarantined LGUs no longer require -- there is still the strict probing into the purpose of the trip. There were reports of police not recognizing doctor's prescription or office ID of seniors. Many seniors are so put off by the hustle that they'd rather stay home.
Mayor Labella said police have been ordered to be compassionate to seniors. Maybe the message has failed. The mayor, in his local turf, can implement the intent of the guideline without making the people in the group feel they are being caged.
Maybe enforcers see the seniors as being perpetually locked down and it is their job to keep it that way. Under DILG memorandum-circular #2020-110 dated August 16, signed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, "all LGUs, down to the barangay level, under MECQ, GCQ and MGCQ, shall not implement 24/7 lockdown on older persons in their homes." As early as that, Año heard the complaints and addressed the problem.