SAF troopers, more soldiers to enforce Cebu City lockdown

Pia Ranada
SAF troopers, more soldiers to enforce Cebu City lockdown
The national government is sending the police's elite Special Action Force to help implement an 'extreme lockdown' in Cebu City, says Interior Secretary Eduardo Año

MANILA, Philippines – The national coronavirus task force deployed more soldiers and police, including elite Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, to implement the lockdown in virus-hit Cebu City.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said this is necessary to augment the manpower of local Cebu police given the stricter measures under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“Our manpower from Cebu City police is not enough that’s why we need additional manpower. The military is readily available. We will add from [camps] in Bicol, Region VI (Western Visayas), and Metro Manila,” he said in Filipino, in a virtual press briefing on Thursday, June 25.

“We want what we did in Metro Manila, like an extreme lockdown, to ensure people stay at home if what they need to do outside is not that important,” added Año.

He did not elaborate on the exact number of additional soldiers to be sent to Cebu City, but he mentioned 150 more cops, including an undisclosed number of SAF personnel.

The SAF is the Philippine National Police’s elite, specially-trained strike force typically deployed to handle sensitive security assignments. It was the SAF that had been ordered to take over the New Bilibid Prison to flush out drug activities. The SAF had also been ordered to implement Duterte’s memorandum order against lawless violence.

Año said there is still a need to strictly enforce mask-wearing and physical distancing.

He earlier ordered the cancellation of 250,000 quarantine passes that previously allowed some Cebuanos to leave their houses.

Without these passes, only one member per household can go out in order to do important errands like buying food and medicine, said Año.

Cebuanos ‘ashamed’ of seeking medical help

Aside from law enforcers, Cebu City also lacks health workers. Año said many doctors and other medical frontliners in hospitals have also been hit by COVID-19.

This further aggravates already overwhelmed local critical health systems where isolation facilities are already “full,” said the Duterte Cabinet member.

Año called on Cebuanos to quickly seek medical help if they observe symptoms. One problem identified by task force officials was that many Cebuanos seem to delay going to hospitals out of embarrassment, costing them their lives.

“At the Vicente [Sotto Memorial Medical Center], for example, many patients die in the ER (emergency room). It seems our countrymen are ashamed that they have COVID-19 so they don’t go to the hospital right away,” said Año.

Task force officials have even ordered an inventory of crematorium services in cities in Cebu province to prepare for worsening of the situation.

Because of the sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Cebu City, it remains the only locality under ECQ, the strictest quarantine measure imposed by the Philippine government.

As of Wednesday, June 24, Cebu City has 4,539 coronavirus cases, according to the Cebu City Health Department. The nationwide total based on Department of Health records is 32,295 as of Wednesday.

Duterte assigned a former military general, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, to oversee pandemic response in the city. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.