Malilong: What do we want?

Frank Malilong

WHEN Cebu City was again placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) after an ill-fated fling with the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ), we were quick to condemn the City Government for its supposed failure to enforce coronavirus preventive measures such as the wearing of masks and observing social distancing, which we blamed for the rise of Covid-19 cases here.

We criticized Mayor Edgar Labella as weak and lacking in political will in trusting the people to heed instructions on their own, unmindful of their (we are loath to point fingers at ourselves) known lack of discipline, when he could have had the violators rounded up and served their just desserts instead.

When Labella issued an executive order implementing our second ECQ, he still appealed for cooperation by the people. But this time, it was accompanied by a warning: If you continue to flout the regulations, you will have to suffer the consequences.

What the consequences were was not spelled out, intentionally, it now appears, since there is no law or ordinance that penalizes refusal to wear a mask or observe social distancing as the City Council has not acted on a proposed ordinance that was filed two months ago to cover the gap.

Still, and skating on thin ice, the police and City Hall teams began scouring the city’s streets to make sure safety protocols were observed this time. Those who were caught astray were made to board a bus, fed with snacks and brought to the Plaza Independencia where they were lectured, asked to join the rosary and subsequently released. Kid gloves, if you ask me.

But now we are hearing complaints against the supposed “militaristic” way of enforcing ECQ regulations. Excuse me? The mayor trusted in the good sense of the people to obey regulations voluntarily and was proven wrong and we went to town deriding him for being so. And after learning his lesson, he tried to be stricter as we demanded and he’s still wrong? What do we really want?

Incidentally, I have a copy of the proposed ordinance drafted by the mayor’s office that sought to punish those who do not wear a mask or observe social distancing with a fine ranging from P3,000 to P10,000 or imprisonment for less than 30 days or exactly 30 days or both fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court. It was introduced by Councilors Dave Tumulak, Raymond Garcia and Philip Zafra.

However, Vice Mayor Mike Rama is not enthusiastic about the ordinance and, short of a mutiny in the council, without his support the measure is all but doomed. In a call to me last Saturday, the vice mayor said he does not believe in punishment to make the people obedient to regulations. City Hall should instead instill discipline through persuasion, he said because our jails are not big enough to house the offenders.

By friendly persuasion, he meant empowering the sitios, distributing washable masks to the people and providing them with decent meals, Rama said.

So there you go. Without an ordinance, all that the city can do is to lecture the offenders on good citizenship and teach them to pray the rosary. Is that what we want? Will it work? If it doesn’t, who is to blame?