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ECQ extension backed



As government officials and Metro Manila mayors grappled with a decision on the fate of the ongoing lockdown in the National Capital Region (NCR), majority of residents in the densely-populated metropolis favor another extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) beyond its scheduled end on Friday.

According to lobbying firm PUBLiCUS Asia Inc., 73 percent of Metro Manila residents surveyed approve the ECQ extension, translating to only one out of four residents in the metro in disapproval of another extension.

The survey, conducted between 5 to 8 May 2020, consisted of 1,000 Metro Manila residents aged 18 to 70.

The survey comes as the Metro Manila Council (MMC), which is composed of the 17 mayors of the metro, met Saturday to discuss the possibility of extending the ECQ until 15 June 2020.

However, after a marathon meeting, the council decided not to give any recommendation to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) as there was no unanimous agreement made.

“It would be difficult for the government to pull the trigger on a second extension of the ECQ without the support of the general public due to political and public order considerations,” PUBLiCUS executive director Aureli Sinsuat said.

“Strong public support for extending the ECQ gives the government a free hand to make a decision based on data and evidence, not politics.”

The survey is the third run of the lobbying firm’s NCR COVID-19 Online Panel Survey, an independent non-commissioned tracking survey designed by PUBLiCUS its in-house strategic research arm VOX Opinion Research.

A late-April survey by PUBLiCUS and VOX on 1,000 Metro Manila residents aged 18 to 70 also showed that 68 percent approved the controlled return to work of some employees.

Game plan

Sinsuat said then that the government “needs to prepare its game plan for getting non-essential businesses back up-and-running once the ECQ ends,” considering that Metro Manila accounts alone accounts for about 38 percent of the Philippine gross domestic product.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya, on a radio interview, said that they would respect the recommendation of Metro Manila mayors as they are part of the body that implements the ECQ.

MMC chairman Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez earlier announced that the NCR mayors’ group will formalize its recommendation through a resolution during a virtual meeting on Saturday. It took them five hours to reach a consensus during the meeting also attended by representatives from the Department of Health (DoH) and Philippine National Police, according to Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) general manager, Undersecretary Jojo Garcia.

Instead, the MMC, headed by Parañaque City mayor Edwin Olivarez, will present to the IATF three scenarios: ECQ but maximum of 15 more days, a general community quarantine (GCQ) “until whenever necessary” and enforcement of GCQ for NCR but local government units will be authorized to order lockdowns on barangays as need.

“There should be one policy for all of Metro Manila, whether ECQ, GCQ, or modified/mix of both). It should not vary per city or municipality,” Garcia said.

“If the IATF goes for ECQ, the Metro Manila Council recommends only 2 weeks maximum after 15 May. If the IATF chooses GCQ, the MMC would be alright with it for as long as necessary, per the DoH’s recommendation,” he added.

The MMDA official stressed the government must be able to “strike a balance” between strengthening the economy and public health.

Duterte’s call

President Rodrigo Duterte will decide on Monday whether to downgrade or extend the ECQ in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that while some Metro Manila cities might be placed under the GCQ, areas with many COVID-19 cases will likely remain under ECQ.

“Although there’s no final decision, I can say that the decision will be granular as it will be surgical,” Roque said. “So it’s not true that the entire Metro Manila will be placed under GCQ or ECQ.”
Malaya said that while the MMC’s resolution is simply recommendatory, the IATF will carefully study the mayors’ recommendation.

“We have an example, which is Zamboanga, which was placed under general community quarantine,” Malaya said. “But since the city government had requested for an enhanced community quarantine, the IATF listened to the recommendation.”

“Albay also was downgraded, but their local government requested for an ECQ extension,” he added.

The DILG spokesman added that in Metro Manila, it will depend on the data the IATF will receive through the technical working group on data analytics as they are studying the situation.

Final decision

He stressed that depending on the data that will come out as the expiration of ECQ draws near, the DILG official said the IATF may have a final decision by 13 or 14 May on whether or not the stricter quarantine measure in Metro Manila will be extended.

“I am sure they will strongly consider the recommendations of the Metro Manila Council,” he said.

The MMC, comprised of the NCR’s 17 mayors, earlier said it is mulling recommending extending the ECQ in the region until 30 May.

This, Olivarez said, is to prevent another wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.

Olivarez pointed out that COVID-19 remains most prevalent in Metro Manila, with over 6,000 of the 10,000 cases in the entire country.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año previously stated the IATF-MEID is likely to just enforce the ECQ in areas which still has high incidences of COVID-19 infections after 15 May.

At present, the NCR, CALABARZON, Central Luzon (except Aurora), Pangasinan, Benguet, Baguio City, Iloilo province, Cebu province, Cebu City and Davao City are under extended ECQ while the rest of the country are under GCQ or the “new normal.”

with Keith Calayag, Elmer Manuel
@tribunephl_lmer,Kristina Maralit
and Alvin Murcia