Malilong: Crack the whip

Frank Malilong

SOME good things do not last. No, make that “somewhat good things.”

Businessmen heaved a sigh of relief when President Rodrigo Duterte granted Mayor Edgar Labella’s appeal and downgraded our community quarantine classification from “enhanced” to “general” effective June 1. After three months of enforced shutdown, businesses that were considered non-essential under ECQ guidelines finally reopened. Workers started streaming back to the city.

But Duterte cut short our joy just as quickly as he gave it, putting us back under ECQ for another 15 days. Suddenly, many offices, plants, shops and factories are shuttered again. Hopefully, that will last only until June 30 or even earlier if the appeal of Mayor Edgardo Labella (his second) to place Cebu City under the less restrictive GCQ rating is granted.

Do not blame the President. He acted on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force that he created to manage the government’s campaign to contain the spread of the virus in the country. The IATF leadership was in Cebu a day before Independence Day and apparently found that our situation did not warrant the easing of restrictions. Even though the recovery rate is high and the case fatality rate remains low, the steady rise in the number of infections this month was not reassuring.

Thus, we now have the dubious distinction of being the only local government unit in the country to remain under ECQ. That stings but if that is the only way that we can overcome the threat of an uncontrolled depredation of the coronavirus in the city, then so be it, let us accept that.

But the national government cannot just continue to fail us in its ratings without doing something to make us pass. Beyond just sending a team to monitor the situation, what else can they offer us by way of assistance? They can no longer feign ignorance of our weaknesses because they cited those as basis for restriction upgrade. What can they do about them?

First of all, they should improve our capacity to detect infections by supplying us with more than enough test kits and by accrediting more laboratories to conduct the testing. Cebu Doctors University Hospital has its testing equipment lying idly for almost a month now because the DOH/RITM team that was supposed to inspect them has no time to come to Cebu. Another big hospital conducts its own PCR tests but only for their internal use, again because the accreditation process is not only complicated, it could take months.

Second, since most of the cities and provinces are presumably out of any immediate danger from a Covid-19 outbreak, part of the supplies allocated for them such as PPEs, ventilators and other hospital equipment should be diverted to Cebu. That goes true with the nurses and other health workers of government hospitals elsewhere in the country; lend some of them to us.

At the local level, I am happy that Mayor Labella has declared that if his appeal for the downgrade to GCQ is not granted, he will strictly enforce the ECQ. No more kid gloves, no more kindness nor compassion. If someone violates the curfew, vehicle color-coding, mask-wearing and social distancing regulations, he should be arrested and detained and his vehicle, if any, impounded.

It is not true that we do not have enough space to hold the violators because we have the Cebu City Sports Center, which has been unused since the city enforced a quarantine. It can easily accommodate more than 5,000, it has only three gates and most of all, there are currently 500 or more policemen camping there. As for the vehicles, the SRP is one huge reclamation area.

In the past, the mayor trusted in the good sense of the Cebuanos to obey the regulations on their own. Obviously, that trust was misplaced. It’s time to try another tack to instill discipline. Crack the whip, wield the big stick.