Nalzaro: A matter of public health concern

Bobby Nalzaro

SECTION 6, Article 3 (Bill of Rights) of our 1987 Constitution states: “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the case interest of national security, public safety or public health as may be provided by law.”

Is this provision only applicable to Filipino citizens? Does this exclude foreign citizens who are visiting our country but are suspected carriers of the 2019-novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV-ARD), originating from Wuhan, China, and which already killed hundreds of people and infected thousands?

I pose this question following this hullabaloo on whether the government should impose a total ban on Chinese tourists. Prior to the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte, the National Government was hesitant to impose the ban as it might destroy relations between the Philippines and China and it was worried about possible diplomatic repercussions. Which is more important, foreign and diplomatic relations or public health?

There have been suggestions from various local chief executives to impose restrictions on Chinese tourists by cutting off direct flights from Wuhan City and Hubei Province in China, “ground zero” of the 2019-nCoV-ARD, and quarantine arriving Chinese tourists for 14 days. I agree with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia that banning Chinese tourists is beyond the power and ambit of local government units, but I do not support her plan to quarantine tourists for 14 days because we are just making the lives of our guests more miserable.

Imagine they will be quarantined or placed in isolation for 14 days? Put yourselves in their shoes? Besides, do we have the manpower and facilities where we can isolate the thousands of arriving tourists? Asa man intawon nato na sila ipamutang? Kinsay mogasto? Dunay mobantay nila?

Governor Garcia’s move is smart. It’s a “subtle” way of saying to the Chinese that “Hey, you are no longer welcome here.” It’s “pa-consuelo de bobo,” so as not to offend our Chinese friends. But why shouldn’t we tell them frankly and honestly that we will temporarily close our doors to them like other countries did. Russia, a communist ally of China, had closed its border with China. It also banned its citizens from visiting China. That should have been our stand long before when this epidemic surfaced.

Our primodial concern is public health. I think China will also understand our government’s stand without showing “violent reaction.” Anyway, this is only temporary. It’s “China against the word” because the virus originated from that country.

Our health officials continue to have a hard time tracing people who had close contact with the 38-year-old Chinese female, the country’s first confirmed 2019-nCoV-ARD case. She manifested the symptoms when she was already here. Imagine if there are a lot of them roaming here because we refuse to ban them as we are afraid of foreign relations and diplomatic repercussions, the more we will panic.

Did the President think of foreign relations and diplomatic implications when he decided to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States because of a very simple reason that the US government canceled the visa of his ally, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. We receive more benefits from the US than China.

There are times when you need to put your health first, as in, before anything else.