What we know so far: The Metro Manila coronavirus lockdown

MANILA, Philippines – When President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the Philippines on Thursday evening, March 13, only a few things stood out clearly: that in Metro Manila, there will be a lockdown, classes and government work will be suspended, and more travel restrictions will be enforced.

Yet what this might mean on the ground remained unclear. By the time Duterte finished his briefing on Thursday night, the public was left with more questions than answers.

The following day, some things started to become clearer, but there was still no document to support the upcoming lockdown. 

Various government officials likewise said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus outbreak was still drafting concrete, detailed guidelines for government personnel and the public to follow when the lockdown begins on Sunday, March 15.

Here's what you need to know as of Friday, March 13.

President Rodrigo Duterte based the travel restrictions on Resolution No. 11 of the IATF, which is composed of key Cabinet officials.

The IATF, which submitted the resolution adopted by the President, is waiting for a memorandum circular from Duterte's office approving all, or parts of, the resolution. This memorandum, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Friday, would be as "good as law."

Under Section 6 Article III of the Constitution, the government has the power to limit the right of people to travel if it is "in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law."

Duterte had earlier declared a state of public health emergency in the Philippines to help the government combat the coronavirus crisis. As of Friday evening, the country has recorded 64 confirmed coronavirus cases, mostly in Metro Manila. The confirmed cases include 5 deaths.

Over 12 million people living in 16 cities of Metro Manila and the lone municipality of Pateros are covered by the lockdown.

Under the lockdown, people generally will not be allowed to leave these areas, while people from outside the region will not be able to enter.

People from within Metro Manila can still move freely and cross borders between local government units inside the region, unless areas and buildings are placed under smaller lockdowns.

President Duterte first said that the lockdown will last from March 15 to April 14, but Cabinet Secretary Nograles said the IATF can recommend to the President ending or extending the lockdown. 

When their recommendation is approved, the duration of the lockdown will change.

The government is counting on the police and the military to establish checkpoints around the metro to bar people from entering and exiting. Police will be the primary enforcement agency, while the military will be on standby only.

All domestic land, sea, and air travel will be prohibited during the lockdown period, though Nograles said this will be subject to daily review and may change according to developments.

If travelers are exempted from the rule, authorities would have to screen them and make sure that they carry the necessary documents or identification.

The government has not been clear on who are exempted from the lockdown.

After Duterte's address, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año discussed some of the proposed exemptions, such as allowing non-Metro Manila residents who have workplaces in the capital region to enter as long as they present at checkpoints their IDs or documents proving the location of their employment.

At the same time, Metro Manila residents can leave if they work in offices outside the region. Workers include business owners who cross regions every day.

Another proposal, Año said on Friday, is to allow journalists and people seeking medical help to cross the checkpoints. These proposals still need to be finalized.

Nograles, meanwhile, said the matter is still up for close discussion with the IATF. Clear policy guidelines, he added, will be issued "soon," particularly those concerning Metro Manila workers who live outside the capital region.

Mass transport systems like the LRT, the PNR, and the MRT will remain operational. Social distancing measures will be in place in train stations during the lockdown period to prevent the spread of the virus.

Allowing public utility vehicles and buses to travel to and from Metro Manila and the provinces is still up for discussion. Año said they should continue operating but carry only people who are exempted from the travel ban.

Metro Manila police chief Major General Debold Sinas, however, recommended on Friday afternoon that all provincial buses be parked first so that cops won't be overwhelmed in screening the capital region's borders. There are an estimated 8,000 provincial buses that enter Metro Manila, according to latest available numbers from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. 

Despite a ban on domestic land, air, and sea travel, Nograles said the transport of goods from the provinces to Metro Manila (and vice versa) will continue to take place during the lockdown period.

This means, ideally, that there will still be enough supplies and stock of basic necessities.

With this in mind, Nograles and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez urged the public to refrain from hoarding and panic buying or risk facing criminal charges.

Health and emergency services will remain in full operation. 

As for government agencies in the executive branch, a skeletal workforce will be maintained to ensure "frontline services" will continue unhampered while work is suspended until April 12. 

No specific provisions have been announced so far when it comes to the legislative and judicial branches, although Duterte has urged them to do the same.

International flights to and from Metro Manila that are not covered by existing travel restrictions will be allowed amid the lockdown.

The Philippines has banned non-Filipinos coming directly from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea from entering the Philippines. Filipino workers will be allowed to travel to these areas, provided they sign a declaration stating they know and understand the risks of returning to these affected countries.

Filipino tourists will be allowed to travel to South Korea except for North Gyeongsang Province, including Daegu City and Cheongdo County, where coronavirus cases are concentrated. They are not allowed to travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau yet.

Filipino citizens coming from abroad will be allowed to come home, subject to strict quarantine guidelines.

Aside from this, Filipino citizens including their foreign spouses and children, holders of permanent resident visas, and holders of diplomatic visas issued by the Philippine Government will be allowed to enter.

Foreigners in Metro Manila who will fly back to their respective countries will also be allowed to do so. 

Nograles reiterated "very strict and stringent travel restrictions will be imposed upon those traveling from countries with localized COVID-19 transmissions."

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently drafting a list of specific countries that will be covered by Duterte's latest order that bans non-Filipinos coming from countries with localized transmissions of the coronavirus. 

For people arriving in Metro Manila but whose final destinations are outside the capital region, Clark, Cebu, or other airports not under quarantine are the best options. Still, quarantine rules will apply depending on where travelers are coming from.

People flying in from abroad via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport will have to remain in Metro Manila until the domestic travel ban is lifted on April 14. Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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