President Rodrigo Duterte has said that rejecting the proposed shift of the entire Philippines into modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) was a “difficult decision” for him to make, the Palace said Tuesday.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the chief executive was “vocal” during his meeting with Cabinet members on Monday that he had a hard time deferring the easing of quarantine rules as suggested by his fiscal managers to resuscitate the pandemic-battered economy.
Nograles said Duterte asked for a “little more time” before imposing a nationwide MGCQ, noting that the Philippine leader wants the state’s Covid-19 vaccination program to commence before easing quarantine restrictions.
“It was a difficult decision for him to make and he was vocal about that because you have to balance health needs and economic needs,” Nograles said in a televised briefing.
“The president is just asking for a little more time because again, the step-by-step process sa kanya is vaccination rollout muna before MGCQ. Let’s wait and let’s see a successful rollout muna,” he added.
Even if the economic team’s proposal was rejected by Duterte, the president’s decision was “fully supported” by the Cabinet, Nograles said.
The official added that the government would look for other ways to “safely reopen the economy” even if Metro Manila, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s GDP, remains under general community quarantine (GCQ) or the third strictest lockdown classification.
“All members of the Cabinet fully support it. There is wisdom in the decision of the president,” Nograles told reporters.
“We will determine which areas are under MGCQ and GCQ for the month of March and the economic team will work on that framework,” he added.
The chief executive’s decision echoes the World Health Organization’s warning that the proposed nationwide relaxation of the community quarantine will lead to an upsurge of Covid-19 cases amid the threat of new virus variants and the delay of the state’s vaccination program.
For weeks, Duterte’s economic managers and local health experts have been weighing on the proposal to further reopen the economy.
The economic team has been hoping to place Metro Manila next month under MGCQ, as the capital region had been under GCQ since August last year.
Under MGCQ, all private and public offices can also resume operations at full capacity, with special remote arrangements for persons aged 60 and above, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions.
The move was seen to revive the economy after the Philippines in 2020 saw its worst economic contraction since 1947.
Apart from the capital region, other areas under GCQ in February are Cordillera Administrative Region, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur.
The rest of the country has stayed under the least restrictive MGCQ this month.
The said quarantine classifications will lapse by the end of the month.