GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 25 May) — Close to lunch time on Tuesday, pedicab driver Bobby Kegani was still waiting for passengers along what used to be a busy intersection in Barangay Calumpang, this city but only a few came.
It was the first day of General Community Quarantine (GCQ) which was announced by officials mid-afternoon Monday.
The move of City Hall came to thwart a surge in new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the city which authorities fear “may jeopardize” the health system capacity of the city.
The local Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) reported on Sunday that all seven major hospitals in the city were already 100 percent full, 83.33 percent of which are COVID-19 positive cases. Of this number, 69 percent are from this city while the rest are from nearby towns in South Cotabato and Sarangani.
With the GCQ, malls, department stores and other non-essential shops were ordered closed, practically rendering many workers in these shops suddenly jobless.
“Wala unta nila gipakalitan ang mga tao, unsaon na among panginabuhian? Asa mi mokuha ug among pangadlaw-adlaw? (They should have not done it by surprise. Where do we get our daily needs now.)” remarked a visibly worried 40-year old Kegani, father of three children, the youngest still a toddler.
Kegani narrated that as part of his daily routine, he set out early hoping to get as many passenger. He managed to earn only 30 pesos for the five-hour wait at the junction. “Hinay ang pasada (slow day, no passengers),” he said while pointing to a long queue of blue tricycles also waiting for commuters.
The pedicab driver said he usually earns 250 pesos a day, excluding fuel expense and pedicab rental. “Wala ko kabalo asa ko karon mokuha ug ipalit namo’g pagkaon sa mga bata (I don’t know where to get money to buy our food for my kids),” Kegani said.
Many residents here expressed dismay on the sudden reversal to GCQ.
Dr. Rochelle Gajete-Oco, head of the local IATF head, said they arrived at the decision to revert the quarantine classification to GCQ “because we cannot risk a possible collapse of the health systems capacity of the city.”
“We can’t risk na bumagsak ang ating health systems capacity, because that will put the whole city and the nearby provinces na nakaasa sa atin in jeopardy,” Oco said.
Businessmen in the city view the abrupt move of the local government with apprehension as it could lead to possible economic repercussions that will have drastic effects on the working class and residents who rely on daily wages to support their families.
Elmer Catulpos, president of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said they do not question the wisdom of officials in recommending a reclassification of the city’s quarantine status, but, this should have been done in a transparent consultation with all sectors.
“We are talking about lives here and how we can save our fellow residents not only from COVID-19 but from hunger and other diseases as well,” he said.
“Had our friends in the local government done their job in foreseeing and preparing the city against COVID-19, we would not be this frantic in addressing a problem that has been with us for over a year now,” Catulpos said.
A vocal trike driver, Armando Garcia, 44, said the city government “should have told first the people about their plans and give out needed assistance ahead of implementing this lockdown.”
The lockdown Garcia was referring to is the clustering of barangays and not allowing people to move from one cluster barangay to the other, as required by the GCQ guidelines issued by City Hall.
Garcia is looked up to as leader of the group of drivers whose tricycles formed a queue, about half a kilometer long, waiting for passengers. Garcia said they have been waiting for commuters in one place because the police do not allow them to move elsewhere around the city.
The GCQ guideline said tricycles in a specific barangay cluster are not allowed to cross into another cluster.
Garcia and dozens of his fellow drivers claimed they are still wondering how they will be able to survive should the situation persist. “Wala pa mi kita ug wala pa kami pamahaw” (We have no earnings yet and we have not taken breakfast yet), he said.
City Administrator Arnel Zapatos said the GCQ will be in effect until June 30 unless otherwise cancelled or extended depending on the situation. He said a weekly assessment of the situation shall be made. (Rommel G. Rebollido / MindaNews)