Every time I go home to my hometown of Barangay Olingan in Dipolog City, I feel like I am being treated like a VIP (very important person). If my childhood friends, former classmates, relatives, fraternity/sorority brothers and sisters, radio fans, Dipolog City-based mediamen or local politicians find out that I am there, they will troop to the house to welcome me. I usually go home every May 29 during the annual fiesta of our barangay. During their courtesy call, some of them, especially my relatives, bring live chickens, goats, dried fish and fruits as gifts. You know the custom and tradition of “probinsyanos.”
In exchange, even if it is not Christmas, they will also ask for Christmas gifts like old clothes, shoes and cash for the enrollment of their kids. That is why every time I go home, I have to prepare for this kind of scenario. Og dili ra ba nimo mahatagan, mangluod. Kung fiesta padad-an pa nimo ug “bringhouse.”
I don’t know if I’ll get the same treatment if I go home now amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. I doubt it. If they find out that I have just arrived from Cebu, dubbed as the epicenter of Covid-19 cases in the Visayas, I doubt they’ll have the courage and enthusiasm to see me. Maybe they will try to avoid me. That is, if I can also arrive at my destination without much hassle. Or maybe upon arriving there, I will have to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
That is the problem faced by travelers, returnees and locally stranded individuals (LSIs). Most of them are barred from going home and entering their hometown. Many LSIs became emotionally and financially distressed because of the situation. Yet some local government units (LGUs) are making their lives more miserable because of strict quarantine protocol.
I received a text message from a resident of Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, who was stranded in Cebu City for a long time. With the help of the Cebu City Government, their group was allowed to go home via San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. But upon reaching the port in San Carlos, authorities barred them from proceeding, knowing that they had just come from Cebu and even though their papers were complete and the Himamaylan LGU had sent a representative and vehicle to fetch them. They weren’t released until a few hours later.
Section 6, Article 3 (Bill of Rights) of our 1987 Constitution states: “The liberty of abode and changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law.”
But where is this right now? It is being curtailed and suppressed because of the pandemic. Our movements are restricted to avoid infecting the community with the virus. It’s being done in the name of public health. If we question the policy, we might be penalized or jailed.
But here is a reminder to local officials about a DILG memorandum signed by Marcelo Morales, assistant secretary for international relations and other interior concerns, dated Aug. 25, 2020, which partly states: “Requiring rapid diagnostic test aside from being an additional cost to passengers is causing delay to LSIs to secure the necessary documents for their travel back to their homes. Further, such is not provided in the policy for the management of LSIs. The DOH also ruled that these rapid tests, aside from that it must be used in conjunction with the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), have a low rate of reliability.
“The refined police guidelines on the management of LSI only require medical clearance certificate and travel authority (prior to the departure of LSI) and the RT-PCR testing will be conducted by the receiving LGUs upon LSIs’ arrival at their final destination. There is no need to further conduct RDT and or RT-PCR tests at the sending LGU.”
“Additionally, the cost of the RT-PCR testing shall be covered by the receiving LGU and not by the LSI. Nevertheless, under the refined guidelines, LGUs may request provisions of test kits from the Inter-Agency Task Force,” the memorandum stated.
While we are protecting public health, our local officials and policy implementers should also be considerate sometimes. We are treating human beings here, not animals. So we will treat them humanely.