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Police on alert against human smuggling at ‘NCR Plus’ borders

The Philippines is facing another problem two weeks into the newly-implemented enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) during the COVID-19 pandemic: human smuggling. 

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to heighten its alert along NCR Plus borders after reported incidents of “human smuggling" on April 7.

PNP Joint Task Force COVID Shield (JTF COVID Shield) said units of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) were already directed to intensify checkpoints at the borders of the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. 

“Units of HPG were directed to intensify their anti-colorum operations to negate similar incidents… Meanwhile, PRO4A (Police Regional Office 4-A) intensified its intel gathering activities to possibly identify where the passengers are gathered for transportation onboard trucks,” JTF COVID Shield Commander Lieutenant General Cesar Hawthorne Binag said in an interview with reporters. 

During the second implementation of ECQ, human smuggling became an “easy” way for people to leave and enter the NCR Plus bubble. Individuals who did not undergo any COVID-19 testing would ride a colorum vehicle to pass through borders to avoid presenting any clearance or documents. 

The HPG has apprehended 24 colorum vehicles that smuggled individuals to and from the NCR Plus bubble since April 4.

They will face complaints in violation of Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

PNP spokesperson Brigadier General Ildebrandi Usana said that prior to the order of DILG, they already received tips on the smuggling scheme. 

“Even prior to that, on tip coming from informants, our HPG troopers were able to catch a number of cargo trucks and/or vans being used to 'smuggle' people in and out of the NCR Plus trying to sneak in and escape the prying eyes of our men in checkpoint areas,” Usana said in a message to Rappler. 

At present, there are 47 quarantine control points (checkpoints) manned by 769 HPG personnel across the NCR Plus bubble. 

On March 27, Duterte placed the areas inside the NCR Plus bubble under ECQ, the strictest community quarantine, in a bid to curb the spike in COVID-19 infections in the area. 

As of April 6, the Philippines has 819,164 cases of COVID-19, with 14,059 recorded deaths. – Rappler.com