Albay mayors favor lifting of travel rules

By Mar S. Arguelles


LEGAZPI CITY --- All 18 town mayors in Albay have welcomed the resolution of the National Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) easing travel restrictions across the country, even as they prepare strategies on how to implement the directive without compromising health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).


Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara, Provincial IATF chairperson, said on Monday, Mar. 1 that the easing of travel restriction is a welcome move as it will enable the economy to recover from the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic.


Bichara, in an interview, said “It’s about time to ease out the restrictions to allow the economy to recover but on condition that the standard health protocol is strictly followed.”


He, however, would urged President Duterte and the IATF to identify, reclassify and categorize various local government units (LGU) as Covid-19 high risk or low-risk areas and grant the provincial government the authority to manage the Covid-19 health guidelines in close coordination with the Bicol IATF and LGUs.


Bichara, in justifying his proposal, likened provincial executives to field commanders who are fully aware of the situation and can make efficient policies, decisions based on actual field situations.


He said in his initial talks with various mayors, most of them said that they would push for allowing anti-gen test result from travelers, instead of the more expensive RT-PCR (swab) test.


Bichara said various LGUs in Albay are holding meetings to draw up their respective strategies, which they will submit to the provincial government during a meeting on Mar. 3. These strategies will be used as basis for the issuance of an integrated provincial travel protocols.


The integrated action plan include the intensifying of profiling, assessment of incoming travellers in all transport terminals (sea, land, and air), close monitoring, and identification of travellers in villages.


In an interview, at least five mayors in the province were in favor the of the easing of travel restrictions, however, they aired some apprehensions on gray areas such as RT-PCR Covid-19 test; quarantine; virus detection of asymptomatic travelers; and the provincial border checkpoints.


Mayors Noel Rosal of Legazpi City , Krisel Lagman Luistro of Tabaco City and Patricia Gonzalez Alsua of Ligao City, and Daraga Mayor Victor Pirete were in favor of the new travel protocols provided that all standard health protocols should be strictly carried out.


Edna Cynthia Berces, assistant regional director of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said the Bicol Regional Recovery Program (RRP0) for Covid-19 would require a total of P295 billion in investments spread over three years.


A total of P81.50 billion for 2020 is needed to implement the program; P155.17 billion in 2021; and P58.06 billion in 2022.


The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Bicol said around P5.4 billion in revenue losses were reported from various enterprises due to temporary closure when the the region was placed under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).


The DTI data showed that among the six Bicol provinces: Camarines Sur lost P2.6 billion; Albay, P1.1 billion; Catanduanes, P625 million; Sorsogon, P464 million; Masbate, P389 million; and Camarines Norte, P148 million.


Rodrigo Aguilar, DTI Bicol regional director, in an interview said the ECQ for the period March 16 to April 30 this year has closed 61,522 business establishments or 61 percent of the 75,000 registered enterprises in Bicol.


The lockdown sent 139,321 workers temporarily out of work.


Only 14,000 vital and essential business establishments involved in the distribution of power, water, food production and distribution, banking, health services were permitted to operate during the ECQ period, he said.