EDITORIAL: Politics Behind Naga’s MECQ

The announcement by President Rodrigo Duterte during his nationwide televised press conference on Monday (June 14) evening, placing Naga City under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) caught city officials and residents by surprise. It was totally unexpected, although according to some doctors, the most that Naga City deserves in terms of the continued rise in Covid-19 cases for the past two months is a general community quarantine (GCQ) status.


Naga City Mayor Nelson Legacion, in an interview with the press a day after the declaration, said that he was surprised by the reclassification of the community quarantine status of the city from MGCQ to MECQ. He explained that based from his talk with the representative of Department of Health (DOH), Naga City’s active Covid-19 cases as far as DOH’s record is concerned was more than 700 cases compared to the 351 active cases recorded by the city government. The mayor said that the classification of the 351 active cases was based on the parameters of the DOH.


Legacion also questioned the DOH data on the alleged high utilization rate of Covid-19 facilities in Naga City, which was used as one of the bases for the imposition of MECQ. Although the Bicol Medical Center (BMC), which is located in the city, has an 80 percent Covid-19 ICU occupancy rate prior to the MECQ reclassification, the city chief executive said that those confined at the BMC Covid-19 beds are mostly residents of Camarines Sur towns and not Naga residents. Moreover, he pointed out that of the 92 total bed capacity of city-run Covid-19 isolation and treatment facilities in the City College of Naga, Our Lady of Lourdes Infirmary and the newly opened Sta. Cruz High School, which can accommodate moderate and severe cases, only 19 beds are presently in use.


Although there was a clamor from members of four Bicol-based medical associations, specifically from the Albay Medical Society, Camarines Sur Medical Society, Philippine Medical Association-Bicol, and the Philippine College of Physicians to place the Bicol region under ECQ, the strictest form of lockdown, data show that in terms of Covid-19 growth rate, Naga’ 36.27 percent for the period May 18-31 to June 1-14 is much lower than those of Camarines Norte at 171.08 percent, Albay’s 61.18 percent, Sorsogon’s 51.27 percent, and Masbate’s 43.31 percent.


On two occasions last year, the Naga City government requested the national Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) to extend the ECQ and impose MECQ in the city. The first was in April 2020, when it requested the extension of ECQ until May 15 of that year. The second was in August 2020 when the city government again requested that MECQ be declared in Naga from September 8 to 24 on the occasion of the Penafrancia Fiesta. Both requests were denied.


Interestingly, Noemi Bron, the DOH Bicol public affairs chief, when queried if the DOH regional office recommended the declaration of MECQ in Naga City, said there was no recommendation from the Bicol IATF to that effect. Maybe the declaration was based on the parameters of the national IATF, she added.


Given the foregoing, the mystery or reason behind the reclassification of the community quarantine status in Naga City may be found in politics.


In the morning of June 14, the same day President Duterte imposed MECQ in Naga, his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte, was in the news as she reacted strongly to Vice President Leni Robredo’s remarks about the Covid-19 surge in Davao City. Duterte was quoted as saying that the VP should “refrain from giving advice if she knows nothing about what is happening on the ground.”