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Pio Duran port faces over crowding

The manager of the Pio Duran port in Albay province has expressed concern about the risk of port congestion following the exemption of truck drivers from checkpoints due to the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Rey Mendizabal, Pio Duran port manager, raised that concern to the port's acting services division manager Dennis Popatco.

In his letter to Popatco, he asked for urgent attention on the port’s actual situation where the truck drivers and their helpers were left behind, while Roll-on Roll-off (RoRo) vessels bound for Masbate continued to sail with only the trucks and cargoes on board.

He added that it is "proper & necessary for the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to address or resolve the matter ASAP considering that it involves two provinces (Albay & Masbate) and that gov’t regional offices concerned are well represented and consulted in said body (Bicol IATF)."

PIO Duran Port

In an interview, he said that on April 4, 52 truck drivers and helpers were temporarily held at the port. That number is expected to rise as truckers can now get through checkpoints for an unhampered delivery of essential goods and supplies amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The port has a capacity of 30 units and 300 persons for the terminal building.

"This spells congestion and a violation of the physical distancing rule in this time of Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

Among those held at the port are 16 drivers/helpers that couldn't go home to Masbate, Mendizabal said.

The province of Masbate adopted the "absolute non-disembarkation" rule for crew via an executive order effective Mar. 23.

Under Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 10, "PPA-controlled ports shall remain open during the entire duration of the Luzon-wide ECQ, provided that there will be strict 'no embarkation/disembarkation of crew' and subject to the requirements of the Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of Health."

The MC provides that "trucks carrying cargoes requiring transit via any body of water or inter island travel shall be required to unload the cargoes in the next port of call and transfer the same to another truck or vehicle."

"Or as an alternative, engage a different driver and a maximum of two helpers provided by the trucking company, the shipper or the consignee until the trucks and cargoes reach its final destination. However, the manpower requirements of these trucks are subject to strict health screening before they will be allowed to enter or exit the port."

The PPA order left truckers and helpers no choice but to stay and worry.

Joel Manalo, a truck driver for a Manila-based rice supplier in Masbate said on Mar. 30 that they had been stranded at the port for three days already. The reason was he and other drivers didn't want to ship their cargo trucks without them.

"We're worried because we didn't know who would be held accountable if the cargoes were lost and the trucks were damaged," he said.

He tried to ask his contact person in Masbate to send a truck to Pio Duran, so he wouldn't have to ship his truck. But that didn't happen.

On Mar. 31, his truck and its cargoes were shipped to Masbate.

When asked what made him agree, he said "tiwala na lang."

He was able to leave the port for Manila before Saturday, Apr. 4.

The port management allowed them to stay in the port's terminal facility and use the comfort rooms to freshen up, as long as they won't go roaming outside because of the ECQ.

Port personnel including from arrastre and shipping lines were attending to their needs (buying food) and other concerns. The PPA hired guards to ensure that they stay put, while their employers took charge of their food needs by sending them cash via money remittances.

With the expected surge of truckers and their helpers, not only Mendizabal got worried but also his staff.

"I hope this gets solved soon because the more people are here, the harder it will be to practice physical distancing," one port employee that requested not to be named said.

As Mendizabal put it, "it's hard for everyone, including us frontliners who would get the ire of locals and its leaders when the place gets overly crowded."

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