Reconsider train ban on pregnant women, elderly – CHR

Michelle Abad
(UPDATED) The ban on elderly persons and pregnant women from using the MRT, LRT, and PNR would take effect when enhanced community quarantine is lifted in Metro Manila

TRAIN ACCESS. Police give flowers to passengers of LRT Central Station in Arroceros, Manila, to celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14, 2020. File photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) appealed to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Friday, May 8, to reconsider the ban on elderly persons and pregnant women from riding the MRT and LRT trains for when Metro Manila switches to a general community quarantine (GCQ) scheme.

The guidelines, dated May 2, state that senior citizens and pregnant women will not be allowed to enter the stations of the MRT, LRT, and Philippine National Railways “due to their susceptibility to coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”

“We appeal to the DOTr to revisit this policy. The MRT and LRT are major transportation options for the commuting public in Metro Manila. Banning older people and pregnant women in these major transportation options, at any time, and especially in the middle of a health crisis, potentially restricts their ability to access essential goods and services or go to work,” said Karen Gomez Dumpit, Focal Commissioner on the Rights of Older Persons and Women.

Earlier, Dumpit urged the government to reconsider a restriction in the GCQ guidelines that held that senior citizens could not leave their homes.

Days later, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced the exception that seniors could go out when indispensable under the circumstances for obtaining essential goods and services or for work in permitted industries and offices.”

In the May 8 statement, Dumpit said that the train ban on the elderly would be “inconsistent” with the new exception. She said it also “potentially violates their rights to health and to work.”

The CHR said while they understand that the premise of the ban is to protect the elderly from the virus, they believe deciding the most appropriate response requires not disregarding or overlooking the needs of marginalized sectors.

If this ban is enforced, pregnant women and elderly persons would use other forms of public transport. “This also exposes the commuting crowd, and negates the purpose of the ban,” said Dumpit.

The ban may also cause acts of discrimination, since it might “send the wrong message that it is acceptable to restrict older people and pregnant women from accessing public transportation.”

Instead, the CHR recommended the designation of more separate train cars for the elderly and pregnant. This would lessen their waiting time, as well as exposure to a larger crowd.

Strict implementation of physical distancing and hygiene protocols in the trains are “sufficient” to lower the risk of infection for everyone, said the CHR.

Later Friday afternoon, the DOTr clarified that the department’s guidelines would also invoke the exception from the omnibus guidelines on community quarantine.

“While the general guidelines identify them as the most vulnerable, it (sic) also behoves the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the implementing agencies like the DOTr to consider exceptions,” DOTr said. The statement quoted the same exception that seniors may go out when indispensable under circumstances to do essential tasks.

“The DOTr remains fully sensitive to public interest, and we assure everyone that we will exercise utmost discretion, empowerment, and latitude in the determination of exceptions as may be warranted or necessary,” DOTr added.

Vulnerable sector

While the novel coronavirus can infect anyone indiscriminately, older persons, especially those with existing illnesses, are more vulnerable to contracting severe to critical cases.

There are about 5.5 million Filipinos aged 60 and above who are most vulnerable to the virus, according to a University of the Philippines study.

Like the elderly, the Department of Health includes pregnant women as part of the vulnerable population and are even prioritized for COVID-19 testing if they show mild symptoms.

Based on experiences of outbreaks from the past, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), pregnant women had severe outcomes compared to non-pregnant women.

However, experts say there is not enough evidence to conclude that COVID-19 may be passed from the pregnant mother to her unborn child.

As of May 7, the Philippines has recorded 10,343 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 685 have died, while 1,618 recovered. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.