COVID-19

Mindanao officials grope in the dark over MECQ short notice

Rappler Mindanao Bureau
Mindanao officials grope in the dark over MECQ short notice

CONTROL. Authorities in General Santos City hope to contain a spike in COVID-19 cases by reducing the number of people outside of their homes, clustering barangays and controlling the unnecessary movement of 'non-essentials' in the city.

Photo by Rommel Rebollido

Instead of implementing MECQ rules at the first light of day, local officials found themselves meeting first, ironing out kinks, and discussing exactly what to do as Malacañang had given them hardly any time to prepare

Local governments in Mindanao cities and provinces placed under a stricter quarantine level found themselves groping in the dark or opting for status quo on Tuesday morning, June 1.

It is Day 1 of a 15-day modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in the cities of Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao, Butuan in Caraga, Zamboanga in Western Mindanao, and the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, and Agusan del Norte.

But instead of implementing MECQ rules at the first light of day, local officials found themselves meeting first, ironing out the kinks, reviewing, and discussing exactly what to do.

“The MECQ implementation starts today. It’s very challenging, but we will do what we can. We will discuss details later in the day,” Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno said in a text message.

Moreno could not give details as of posting time because he was still at a meeting with key officials of the national government in Northern Mindanao, so they could agree on exactly what measures to take under an MECQ classification.

One big problem, according to Cagayan de oro Councilor George Goking, is how to provide aid to people who have to stay home.

“The city has a population of around 700,000. Let’s just talk of half of them. Did we even think about how much this would cost?” Goking said.

He said he was worried that the 15-day MECQ would leave business establishments no other option but to close down for good.

Cagayan de Oro accumulated 1,213 active COVID-19 cases in a matter of weeks in May, threatening its hospital system.

Deaths are averaging around 11 cases each day in the city, and hospital rooms are running out.

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Misamis Oriental Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano said the province was gearing up for some changes despite it remaining under MGCQ status. He said the changes would need to be done because Cagayan de Oro is in the middle of Misamis Oriental.

Stricter quarantine rules under an MECQ classification in Butuan City have yet to be implemented too, as of posting time.

“Mao ra man gihapon. Wala pa man (The situation is still the same. Stricter rules have yet to be imposed),” Butuan-based journalist Erwin Mascarinas told Rappler on Tuesday afternoon.

Status quo in Zamboanga

It’s a status quo in Zamboanga City that has been under MECQ since May 8. There, malls and other “essential” establishments are allowed to operate with limitations, and travel and public transportation are permitted under strict regulations.

Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle Climaco called on Zamboangueños to continue observing MECQ rules as she warned of the threat posed by the Beta COVID-19 variant, or the variant first detected in South Africa, that the Philippine Genome Center found in 52 of the 257 samples from Zamboanga City. The variant was first detected in Zamboanga in March.

The entire Zamboanga Peninsula, including Zamboanga City, registered 2,393 active COVID-19 cases, mostly local transmissions, this week, and 10,122 confirmed cases since 2020.

Dr. Anatalio Cagampang Jr., head of the Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) and chief of the Integrated Provincial Health Office, reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in Zamboanga del Sur alone has reached 862 on May 28. Of the number, more than 300 cases were counted in Pagadian City.

Short notice

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a local official complained of the short notice from Malacanang.

“The guidelines for an MECQ are unclear. There are contradicting announcements from various agencies. How can we implement immediately today when the announcement was made late Monday night? LGUs were not given enough time to prepare,” the official told Rappler.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced close to midnight on Monday his decision to place the three Mindanao cities and four provinces under MECQ , based on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging and Reemerging Diseases.

In General Santos City where the quarantine level is supposedly the less strict GCQ, stricter measures imposed in May have remained in place. The General Santos City government temporarily shut down eateries, restaurants, bars, amusement establishments, but allowed malls, barber shops, beauty parlors, and “essential” establishments to operate on limited capacity.

General Santos Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the measures, including a six-hour nightly curfew, liquor ban, and the “no-movement Sunday” rule when most people are directed to stay home, would be in effect until the end of June. – Froilan Gallardo, Frencie Carreon, Rommel Rebollido, Bobby Lagsa, and Herbie Gomez