Torn between two community quarantines — ECQ vs GCQ

Which do you prefer — to be under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or the general community quarantine (GCQ)?

When President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 112 on April 30, 2020 imposing the ECQ in ‘high risk geographic areas” and a GCQ for the rest of the country until May 15, most felt they were freed from prison. The others — well, they wanted to stay under ECQ. These include officals from the local governments of Zamboanga City, La Union province, and towns in Albay province.

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But why would some opt to remain under ECQ? Are they afflicted with a variant of a post incarceration syndrome where they wanted to go back in prison rather assimilate in the society?

For Mayor Beng Climaco of Zamboanga City as well as the League of Mayors in Albay, nothing beats the side of caution. There is still no vaccine against Covid-19 and the risks are high considering that the health facilities in their localities are still unprepared and their respective local health systems are still far from international standards.

Second, Zamboanga City caters not only to the towns in the Zamboanga Peninsula but also those in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao while Albay is also the hub of people and industries in the Bicol Region particularly the provinces of Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Masbate. If both areas are downgraded to GCQ, mobility may become more lax and Coronavirus will have a greater chance to spread. If this happens, a rebound of Covid-19 cases is more likely and could even be higher based on the experience of Singapore and based on projections of Philippine data analysts.

But while some politicians adhere to evidence-based and scientific decision-making, others are only riding the waves to pursue their personal and even economic interests. There are local officials both at the city/municipal and barangay levels who wanted the ECQ prolonged to sustain the entry of resources to their areas from the national government and the private sector. President Duterte clearly said that resources will be re-concentrated to those under ECQ and assistance may only be optional to those under GCQ. This is also the mentality of some people that you see them quarreling pro-GCQ supporters in the social media particularly in Twitter and Facebook.

Lastly, there are also ECQ backers from the business sector. Apart from the health-related products, the food industry experienced a boom under the quarantine. With ECQ, purchases by customers such as local government units (LGUs) and charitable organizations are in done in bulk. Hence, it is easier and cost-effective to sell commodities like rice as these will be in sacks or metric tons as against the retail or per kilo during GCQs or normal times. Middle class households are now purchasing in sacks while lower income households buy in quantities of at least five or 10 kilos. This is being supported by the survey conducted by the Mindanao Food Highway.

But of course, the support for ECQ or GCQ depends on where one stands and what lens he or she uses. In Albay, for example, the political divides are drawn when Governor Al Francis Bichara maintained that the province is in GCQ based on EO No. 112 and there is no executive order amending the same. Cong. Joey Salceda and Mayor Noel Rosal, on the other hand, were saying that their petition to retain Albay under ECQ was approved and an announcement is enough. Unfortunately, some Facebook users are lambasting Bichara because allegedly he has personal agenda — the governor wants GCQ so he can operate again his quarrying activities.

Legazpi Mayor Noel Rosal excitedly announced that Albay has been reverted to ECQ (left) while the Governor Al Francis Bichara cautions against the same claiming that President Duterte’s approval is still required (above).

Other pro-GCQ politicians, though, think beyond their personal interests or sometimes a mix of personal and public interests.. A number of local officials are pushing for a more relaxed environment so that economic activities can operate. LGUs cannot sustain giving food to the people until a vaccine is developed so realistically, allowing business establishments to resume their operations would matter a lot. People will work and there will be money to buy food. Similarly, production will resume so people will have something to buy.

Of course, there is no such thing as one size fits all in local governance. Contexts differ and people, particularly the decision makers, have their personal and even economic interests to consider. Hopefully, however, the decisions to support either ECQ or GCQ will not only be evidence-based but also considers what is really the public welfare.

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