Duterte’s public address on LGUs is not just for Vico Sotto. Here’s why.

March 20, 2020 - 8:05 PM
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President Rodrigo Duterte held a meeting with the officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in Malacañang on March 19, 2020. (PCOO Global Media Affairs/Released)

The Philippine government stressed that President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest nation address on COVID-19, reiterating the quarantine rules, is directed to all local government units in Luzon.

Duterte’s nation address that aired past 1 a.m. on March 20, contained warning against local government officials who will disregard the rules of the national government on the enhanced community quarantine.

Several online users concluded that the LGU officials Duterte might be subtly referring to is Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto who recently made buzz due to his proactive initiatives to combat COVID-19.

Prior to Duterte’s address, Sotto, earned disapproval from the Department of Interior and Local Government when he allowed some tricycles to service health workers and those exempted from the quarantine to move around the city.

Under quarantine rules, all public transportation including domestic air and sea travel in Luzon are suspended until April 14.

Address is a shade to mayors?

Other Filipinos also speculated that the public address was a “shade” not just to Sotto but also to other mayors who also recently became popular on social media because of their efforts to curb the transmissions of COVID-19 in their jurisdiction.

“Duterte is ‘crab mentality’ personified. He wants mayors to stay as inept as he is,” blogger Tonyo Cruz said.

Aside from Sotto, the mayors of the cities of Valenzuela, Marikina and Manila, as well as the municipality of Cainta in Rizal were praised online for their COVID-19 efforts. These include sanitizing tents, testing centers, disinfection operations and temporary residences for health workers.

“What Vico Sotto, Marcy Teodoro, Rex Gatchalian, Isko Moreno and more are doing…that’s public service and it’s amazing,” said Filipino singer-rapper Jose Villanueva III, better known as Quest, on Twitter.

Some users also questioned why the national government approved the deployment of electronic tricycles in the city of Manila but not the use of public tricycles in Pasig City.

The Manila city government on Thursday commissioned a total of 189 e-tricycles to ferry health workers around the metro.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, however, clarified that these were not for public use because the drivers are specifically assigned to city district hospitals such as Ospital ng Tondo and Justice Jose Abad Santos General Hospital.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año also made the same distinction to reporters.

“If you allow mass transport, you’re opening a gate. E-vehicles don’t have routes. The city of Manila commissioned them as an on the spot system to transport health workers,” he said.

Amid the questions on targeted LGUs, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, also a member of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-IED), on Friday morning clarified that the president’s advisory is directed to all officials and residents covered by the umbrella measure.

“Ang mga sinasabi ng IATF na manatiling sarado ay dapat sarado. Ang mga sinasabing dapat manatiling bukas, dapat bukas,” Nograles said in a press briefing.

He also cautioned the public against pitting the LGU officials against one another.

“Let’s not start this ball rolling of identifying LGUs. Alam ko (I know) where this is going. Let’s not fall into that. Magtulungan po tayo. Nagtuturuan na, eh,” he said.

During the IATF-IED press briefing, a reporter also sent in a phone-in question asking if the president’s daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is also covered by the nation address on LGU.

Año responded:

Everyone is reminded.we are not pinpointing [an] individual LGU or person. This is the guidelines of the president for LGUs.

What was Duterte’s message really about?

In his 14-minute national address to LGUs, Duterte told LGUs to reinforce border control and abide by the standards set by the national government.

“Let me be clear to everyone. So when the IATF says: ‘Do not restrict the flow of cargo of whatever type’, then no LGU should say that they only follow or allow food or essential goods to come in. You are setting already your standards, and making this quarantine more difficult for all,” he said.

He then instructed the DILG and the Department of Justice to monitor the compliance of the LGUs on the IATF guidelines.

Duterte warned that local officials who will still disobey these rules might face possible administrative and criminal cases.

“But if you go beyond the standards that we have set, you are abusing your authority, and you know that it can lead to—administrative cases or even worse, unless you stop what you are doing and [cooperate] fully. Criminal cases cannot be far behind,” he said.

This contradicted his pronouncement on March 16 that mayors and barangay captains should take charge in ensuring their respective constituents have enough food, water and other basic necessities.

Some critics noticed this too. Activist leader Renato Reyes made a before-and-after comparison of the president’s remarks on Twitter.

“The contradicting statements expose the lack of a comprehensive plan to address the health crisis,” Reyes pointed out.

Under the law, lawyer Roselle Tugade said the president “only has general supervision over LGUs” but not direct control over them.