Nalzaro: Gwen is a trailblazer

·4 min read

Is Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia stubborn? Or is she defiant to the guidelines of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) on the situation of arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROF)? No. She is neither stubborn nor defiant. Gwen is a trailblazer, a trendsetter and innovator.

“I am not defiant. I am just trying to look for the best possible way to implement policies that will not further burden our people,” Gwen said in reaction to the plan of two Cabinet secretaries to file charges against her for insubordination for not following IATF’s guidelines on OFWs and ROFs. Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) deputy chief implementer Joel Garganera supported Gwen’s policy. I also fully agree.

Under Resolution 114, the IATF guidelines said “all arriving passengers shall undergo fourteen (14) day quarantine upon arrival. The first ten (10) days of which shall be observed in a quarantine facility, with the remainder to be completed under home quarantine in their respective local government units of destination.” They will only undergo a swab test on the seventh day.

But Governor Garcia modified the said guidelines a little. Based on her memorandum, OFWs and ROFs arriving at MCIA will undergo a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. They will wait for the result in a quarantine hotel for two days. If the result comes out negative, OFWs and ROFs who are not from Cebu will be allowed to proceed to their final destination where they will follow the protocols of their respective local government units. Those within the province will be allowed to go home, where they will continue to be quarantined. They will undergo another swab test on the seventh day.

What is defiant? A defiant person is someone or something that resists behaving or conforming to what is asked or expected. An example of a defiant person is someone who is told to do something and immediately does the opposite. Gwen did not defy the order. She just modified it to, again, “lessen the burden” of the concerned sector.

She has the prerogative to impose what is best in her territorial jurisdiction based on Section 105 of the Local Government Code of the Philippines, which states that: “Direct national supervision and control by the Secretary of Health: In cases of epidemics, pestilence and other widespread public health dangers, the Secretary of Health, may, upon the direction of the President and in consultation with the local government unit concerned, temporarily assume direct supervision and control over health operations in any local government unit for the duration of the emergency, but in no case exceeding a cumulative period of six (6) months. With the concurrence of the local government unit concerned, the period for such direct national control and supervision may be further extended.”

Maybe she is defiant if she waived or disregarded the RT-PCR test and imposed her own whims and caprices. But under her memorandum, there are two stages of swab tests. It is stricter compared to the IATF’s guidelines. Why force the OFWs and ROFs to undergo 14 days of quarantine when after two days they are all cleared with their negative RT-PCR test results? They should be released so that they can have a precious time bonding with their families.

Besides, some of these OFWs and ROFs have been fully vaccinated from their places of origin and showed negative swab tests before they boarded the plane. So why make their lives miserable upon arriving here by undergoing 14 days of quarantine, which could add to their financial burden? The IATF even granted the request of Mayor Chan to allow fully vaccinated foreign guests to enter the city. And yet our OFWs and ROFs will go through the hassle of being quarantined?

Under this pandemic, there is no fixed template for our leaders to follow. Even the IATF keeps on changing its policies to adjust and conform with the present times. How many times did the IATF change its policy on certain matters? Before the surge of Covid-19 cases in the National Capital Region (NCR), the IATF allowed the opening of cinemas and entertainment venues, but some local chief executives there including Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella did not follow the order because they are looking after the welfare of their constituents. It also recommended the resumption of selective face-to-face classes, but the President disapproved it.

As former Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Macaundas Hadjirasul said: “No one can claim to have been truly prepared for this crisis. Our leaders have to make innumerable decisions daily without sufficient precedents, information, time, manpower, resources and even mobility. Let’s be less judgmental.” I think that’s what Gwen has been doing. “Imperial Manila” should not always impose their whims and caprices on us in the province all the time.