MANILA, Philippines – At most boundaries surrounding Metro Manila, crossing from one city to another means leaving a quarantined area and moving into a space where movement is generally unrestricted and the daily grind remains as is, save for extra precautions against the coronavirus.
But it was a different scenario when pedestrians or motorists crossed the border between Metro Manila and the town of Cainta in Rizal. The first-class municipality is also under quarantine after it recorded at least 3 cases – 2 of which resulted in death – of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
It took a few minutes before personnel – a mix of policemen, barangay officials, and barangay health workers – sprang into action past midnight at the border of Marikina City and Cainta along the Marikina-Infanta Highway. No less than Police Major Carlo Caceres, the town’s acting police chief, and Barangay San Isidro chief Ricardo Licup, manned this checkpoint into Cainta.
Municipal Mayor Kit Nieto dropped by later on, completing the all-star cast of officials manning the main entry point from Marikina to Cainta.
The process was straightforward: police, the checkpoint frontliners, flagged vehicles and asked drivers and passengers for their IDs and purpose for entering Cainta. Once it was established that their movement was necessary – because they either live in Cainta or had important business there – they were let in, but not before a temperature check by the barangay’s health workers. Anyone with a fever was supposed to be referred to a nearby doctor for further evaluation.
It was a simple process that somehow got cut short on vehicles with more than two wheels. Passengers of trucks, and jeepneys, for some reason, didn’t get their temperatures checked. It was a strange quirk, considering the quarantines – over both Metro Manila and Cainta – are meant to prevent the spread of the virus.
According to Nieto, the checkpoint wasn’t there to screen people coming in and going out of Cainta, but to determine the purpose of their movement. “Kasi if we do the thermal scanning sa lahat ng pasahero baka hindi na matapos yung ginagawa natin, baka mag umaga siya na ‘di natin nachecheck. There’s another group that handles that. Pero primarily ang pagpunta rito nila ang tinatanong namin – what is your purpose for entering our town?” he told Rappler past midnight on March 15.
(If we do thermal scanning on all passengers, this is going to take forever. The sun will be up before we’re done checking. There’s another group that handles that. But our primary purpose here is to ask: what is your purpose for entering our town?)
“There is a quarantine declaration in our town which means kung hindi masyadong importante ang lakad mo o hindi siya something that’s connected with employment or emergency or health issues, parang unwelcome ka ngayon,” he added.
(There is a quarantine declaration in our town which means if your purpose for entering Cainta isn’t that important or is not connected with employment, or an emergency, or health issues, you’re unwelcome here.)
But a few kilometers away at the Cainta-Pasig City border along Ortigas Avenue Extension, the checkpoint protocols were noticeably stricter. At this checkpoint, Department of Health and Cainta officials painstakingly scanned the temperatures of each commuter and passenger, whether they were inside jeepneys, private cars, trucks, or on motorcycles.
The result? An unbelievably long line of vehicles waiting to enter Cainta from Pasig City. “Pagpasensyahin niyo na lang ito (Please be patient),” Cainta town personnel said as they scanned the IDs and temperatures of each passenger.
The variation in the standards of the two checkpoints wasn’t unique to Cainta and its borders.
Around Metro Manila, local officials, police, and military differed in the implementation of a quarantine on the megacity – something the government will need to address.
Within Cainta, Nieto has implemented various measures – from thermal temperature scans, regular sanitation, the banning of all public gatherings, and the distribution of supplements, among others.
But when you must make adjustments for economic reasons and borders are as porous as the ones between Cainta and the rest of Metro Manila, municipal-wide efforts need to be complemented by its neighbors’.
“There’s no 100% foolproof thing considering how many we are and how many personnel we can tap to handle this perfectly,” said Nieto, when asked if the inconsistency in temperature scans at the border was a cause for concern.
“That’s exactly why I’m here. So that I’ll know what adjustments to make, so if at least we get to cover 90%, I think that’s reason for us to be thankful that the quarantine is in effect and is implemented properly,” he said.
The lockdown on Metro Manila is set to end on April 14, although it might be cut short or extended, depending on the coronavirus Inter-Agency Task Force’s recommendations. During the month-long “community quarantine,” only “essential” movement within Metro Manila is encouraged, public gatherings are prohibited, classes are suspended, and the executive branch of the government operates with a skeletal staff. – Rappler.com