Philippine arts

Questions Filipinos are asking about the coronavirus lockdown

Gaby Baizas
Questions Filipinos are asking about the coronavirus lockdown
(UPDATED) President Duterte’s order concerning the country's capital leaves more questions than answers

MANILA, Philippines – In an evening address on Thursday, March 12, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a lockdown on Metro Manila to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. The lockdown is set to begin March 15 and will last until April 14; however, this may be lifted or extended anytime if the Duterte government sees fit.

Prescribed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus outbreak, the presidential order came after the health department raised the alert level for the coronavirus to its level of Code Red Sublevel 2.

But the President’s announcement led to more questions than answers. (READ: What could happen under a coronavirus lockdown?)

Here are some of the most common questions Filipinos have about the lockdown:

Is it a lockdown or a quarantine?

The IATF resolution recommended a “community quarantine” be imposed on Metro Manila. But while reading the resolution during his evening address, Duterte referred to it as a “lockdown.”

For Manila, may ‘Ayaw naming gamitin ‘yan,’ pero kasi takot kayong sabihing lockdown, but it’s a lockdown,” he said.

(For Manila, some say ‘We don’t want to use that term,’ but that’s because you’re afraid to call it a lockdown, but it’s a lockdown.)

This caused confusion among many. 

How about Filipinos who work in Metro Manila, but live outside – and vice versa?

The IATF resolution stated that “land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila” will be suspended during the lockdown.

Many Filipinos were concerned about how this would affect work and how exactly it would be implemented.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año later clarified that workers and business people from the provinces will be allowed to enter the capital provided they present identifying documents that prove they work in Metro Manila. Screening will be done through checkpoints, though details on how this will be enforced have yet to be announced.

At the same time, Año encouraged the private sector to work from home to reduce the number of travelers going in and out of the metro.

As for informal workers, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez advised them to sell outside Metro Manila.

How about other travel plans?

Apart from work-related travel, Filipinos wondered whether the lockdown would affect previously booked trips, international travel, access to airports, and passport appointments.

The Department of Foreign Affairs previously advised Filipinos to delay non-essential travel plans to certain areas, including South Korea and Palestine.

The Metro Rail Transit Line 3 also conducted a dry run of social distancing in train stations on Friday morning, March 13, in preparation for the lockdown’s implementation.

Other transportation officials have yet to draft implementing guidelines on travel restrictions due to the lockdown.

How about people’s basic needs?

Several Filipinos were already worried about access to food, supplies, and other resources long before the President’s address. Citizens queued in supermarkets in a scramble for groceries, and the lack of supply of face masks even led private hospitals to improvise and provide makeshift cloth masks to health workers.

After Duterte’s order, Filipinos asked how the government could ensure basic needs for everyone in the country. Others worried about how this would affect deliveries and shipments.

A day after the President delivered his address, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles assured the public that the transport and supply of basic necessities and essential goods will continue despite the lockdown. 

Nograles also advised against panic buying and hoarding, echoing the sentiments of Vice President Leni Robredo and Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto.

Other countries have also resorted to panic buying amid the pandemic. Shoppers in Singapore and Los Angeles cleared shelves off supermarkets, while residents in Wuhan, China resorted to online group-buying services for food. Residents in Hong Kong even resorted to armed robbery to get a hold of toilet rolls. 

How are police and military involved?

Duterte said the police and military are part of the task force. Several uniformed members were present at the evening address, including Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Felimon Santos Jr and Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay.

Later in his address, Duterte was more specific with the details, and stated things “could be messy.” He claimed the police and military would “maintain order” in the country, and warned Filipinos not to pick a fight with officials and law enforcers.

However, the President was quick to clarify: “Hindi ito martial law,” he said. (READ: ‘Not martial law,’ Duterte says of Metro Manila lockdown over coronavirus)

“It has nothing to do with the power of the military nor the power of the police nor my power and these guys beside me. It’s just an issue of protecting public interest and public health,” he added.

This led many Filipinos to be more suspicious about the lockdown. 

A day after Duterte’s address, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director Major General Debold Sinas said the Philippine National Police (PNP) would arrest people who violate the lockdown. Sinas issued this statement even if Duterte has not yet released an executive order or memorandum circular as basis for the lockdown.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military will not be involved in defining the parameters of the lockdown, and will only help the police in enforcing it.

What other questions do you have about what the President announced last Thursday? Send us your questions in the comments! –

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Gaby Baizas

Gaby Baizas is a digital forensics researcher at Rappler. She first joined Rappler straight out of college as a digital communications specialist. She hopes people learn to read past headlines the same way she hopes punk never dies.