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By: Vanessa Almeda, Mylen Manto | Published Friday, May 29, 2020
In a meeting on May 27, DILG and all mayors of Cebu, including the tri-cities, agreed that locally stranded individuals must secure the consent of the receiving local government unit to be allowed to go home. (Lito Tecson)

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and all mayors of Cebu and the tri-cities agreed that locally stranded individuals (LSIs) will be required to get the consent of the accepting local government unit (LGU) before they can go home.

In a meeting called Wednesday, May 27, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said that a DILG advisory on the guidelines for LSI management stating that a written consent or acceptance letter from the receiving LGU is no longer required have caused a "great concern" for the local chief executives (LCEs).

Garcia, who facilitated the meeting with DILG, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Tourism (DOT), private sector, and other national agencies, said the LCEs "are the ones that need to face the panic of people in their own LGUs."

Since the province was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) up until it was dowgraded to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), LGUs down to the local barangays have tightened their own health and border controls in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). 

Barangays have event set up their own checkpoints disallowing entry to non-residents or unfamiliar faces in their areas.

LMP stand

In the meeting, Liloan Mayor Christina Frasco, who is also the president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Cebu, said the advisory "caused grave concern upon mayors."

"That is the reason why when we received the DILG advisory that the consent of the local chief executive would no longer be a requirement for the return of individuals, this caused grave concern upon mayors anticipating that it will cause harm not only to the community that would receive the person returning but to the person themselves. It could cause undue embarrassment in denials at the borders, cause unnecessary distress upon the community and cause our LGUs to be overly stretched as we already are,"she said.

In explaining her position, Frasco said the people of Cebu and its constituents "are still gripped by a sense of caution" since the province was placed under ECQ. 

Health and safety protocols that has been imposed by the Provincial Government in agreement with all of the mayors were strictly followed, she said. 

And because of this sense of caution which has already been ingrained in the minds of the people and its leaders, it resulted in lesser number of Covid-19 positive cases in the province.

"We are very grateful that to this day the province has very minimal cases precisely because of this culture of caution that we have developed. Now, we cannot blame our locals as well as our barangay health workers, our barangay officials for reacting with a sense of panic when new individuals return to their homes or OFWs come from other countries, precisely because of the quarantine setting that we have been in for the past over 60 days," she said.

Talisay City Mayor Gerard Anthony "Samsam" Gullas, for his part, urged that there should be "clear guidelines that we can agree on with the LGUs and alll national government agencies.

"That is what we have to do moving forward like put a period nga mao na atong buhaton. Way kuwang way kapin, mao na lang ato buhaton," Gullas added. 

"The bone of contention here is whether the letter of acceptance or consent or whatever way you call it… it's really about clear recognition of the LCEs' responsibilities that also need to be given due respect," Garcia said. 

Frasco said the mayors are aware of the guidelines of the national government "and we have no intention to violate the same."

But she said the position of the mayors "is that there has to be a practicable application of these policies and in anticipation of how it will be received by the community."

Frasco said if the consent of the LGU, either the mayor or the barangay captain, is not secured before the return of the LSI or the OFW, "we cannot ensure the smooth return of the individual."

She then presented an LMP resolution adopting the GCQ protocols of the governor while still cognizant of the IATF resolution.

Mayor's consent

For his part, DILG Central Visayas Director Leocadio Trovela said the consent is already implied in the National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 Order No. 2020-02.

"The consent is dapat talaga i-secure yun. The consent of the sending and the destination except nga binigyan niyo lang siya nang document. Implied naman talaga na bago mag depart dun sa departure dapat i-secure in a way the acceptance of the LGU. I think it's not violative of the IATF guidelines," Trovela assured the governor and the mayors.

Under the NTF vs Covid-19 guidelines, it is the PNP that will issue the travel authority to the LSIs.

But Trovela clarified that while the "consent" or "acceptance letter" was not written as prerequisite in the guidelines, it is unavoidable to get the mayor's consent before PNP issues the travel authority.

"Pero talaga namang kukunin at kukunin yung consent ng destination LGUs in that aspect. Hindi naman pupwedi talaga na mag i-issue ang PNP ng travel authority kasi PNP is a member of the local Covid TF and the local Covid TF is chaired by mayors and then ang gagawin ng PNP diyan, pag nag isyu siya nang travel authority, natural iko-consult ng PNP yung mayors," he elaborated. 

On May 27, Garcia issued Executive Order (EO) No. 17-B prescribing guidelines for the returning LSIs in harmonization of the guidelines issued by the NTF Against Covid-19 Incident Command-Emergency Operations Center.

A Cebuano upon entry into the receiving LGU must present a result that he or she is negative of Covid-19 either through swab or rapid tests, or in the absence of which, a medical certificate signed by the municipal or city health officer of the LGU where stranded indicating that he or she is cleared of the said disease. 

A letter of confirmation from the mayor of the receiving LGU indicating the latter’s consent to accept him or her, must also be presented. This must be secured, Garcia said, to determine that he or she is a bonafide resident therein. 

Lastly, a travel authority issued by the Joint Task Force Central Visayas Shield (or the Philippine National Police), provided that he or she already secured of two aforementioned documents. 

“The LCE’s letter of confirmation shall be attached to the travel authority,” read the EO. (Vanessa L. Almeda and Mylen Manto)