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Local chief executives in Western Visayas are starting to raise their objection against the policies issued by the National Inter Agency Task Force (NIATF) that counter local protocols that have worked for them.

Well, it’s about time! Now that not only one but almost everyone is speaking out, I guess the national government will be forced to listen instead of just dishing out one-sided orders.

First to object is Gov. Bong Lacson and the 31 mayors in the province, manifesting their position regarding the new directive that covers the entry of Returning Overseas Filipinos wherein they will no longer be subjected to local health protocols by the receiving LGU.

ROFs, like all other repatriates, have been subjected to RT-PCR testing upon arrival here even if they carry a negative test result. They too have to subscribe to the mandatory quarantine in government facilities or designated hotels if they can afford to pay on their own, until their local test results are out.

The premise for continuing this protocol is the fact that there have been instances wherein ROFs, OFWs, LSIs and APORs tested positive here despite testing negative in Manila before their trips home.

Gov. Bong even pointed out that subjecting these repatriates to tests in Manila is just a waste of effort, time and resources, as there is always that chance that they can get infected while in transit going home. The fact that the first COVID cases in the province came from OFWs and LSIs strengthens their position.

Of course it is understandable too why some returning residents are getting angry at this double protocol because some of them, especially the OFWs, have been overstaying in quarantine facilities awaiting their tests results so they can fly home to the provinces.
To be subjected again to another round of quarantine, especially when they have very little time left in their vacation, can really be the pits.

The fact too that results take longer than the promised 2-3 days add to their frustration and by the time some of them are sent home, the total number of days spent on following COVID protocols have eaten up time they could have spent with their families.

But, as our chief executives have been harping on, we are in a crisis and we have to cooperate with what our local governments believe have been working well for the safety of all.

Iloilo province and city also issued the same objection. In a statement, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said that he will align his position with that of Iloilo province by insisting that all ROFs and LSIs will be re-tested and quarantined upon their arrival from Manila.

“We will be wasting all our hardships if we follow the rule that all ROFs can return to their respective houses immediately upon arrival. As a local chief executive, it is my sworn duty when I was elected and given a mandate for three years to take care of our constituents. I intend to do so together with all the Local Chief Executives of the province,” Treñas stated.

Bacolod Mayor Bing Leonardia also issued a similar statement asking the regional IATF to favourably endorse their appeal to the NIATF allowing them to continue implementing their own local health protocols for returning residents.

“Re-swabbing upon their arrival here will, thus, be more prudent and safer for the families of these Returning Residents and the general community,” Mayor Bing said.

Of course those who test negative even before their 14-day quarantine is up can immediately be released to finish quarantine at home.
Those who completed their 14-days of isolation can also be sent home even if their results are not yet out and this may be a good compromise for returning residents since some of them have been claiming that the delay in test results have resulted to their extension of stay in facilities beyond the mandatory number of days.

Mayor Bing also appealed for a moratorium on trips for returning residents until the end of this month. Gov. Bong’s earlier appeal of the same was granted for only one week which will end today. We will know this week if our appeal reached the right ears when flights home will continue to be grounded.

There was an appeal too asking the NIATF to give a 2-day notice to receiving LGUs but that appeal has been ignored so many times and we’ve had countless of surprise arrivals, oftentimes during unholy hours that it may be wishful thinking they will have a change of mind.

I am personally glad that our local chief executives are coming out strongly about this. Whether they will stand their ground or not remains to be seen, especially if the NIATF will dismiss their appeals.

If denied, will we see a showdown between the national and the local governments? Can we afford to defy national orders to protect our own local communities? This will be a test whether the strength of the so-called “local autonomy” does exist. This is something to watch out for and will be a measure of our local elected officials.*

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April 2021