By Felipe F. Salvosa II

Photo shows home quarantine leave passes for distribution at Barangay San Felipe in Naga City on March 21, 2020. (Credit: Philippine Information Agency, JRM-PIAV/Camarines Sur)

Near frustration is palpable from Marilyn “Marie” Marcelino’s Facebook posts. On Saturday, the chairwoman of Barangay Ususan in Taguig saw the number of confirmed and suspected cases of Covid-19 go up to three and 18, respectively, from virtually none the week before.

Marcelino had just issued barangay quarantine passes to limit the number of people going out to buy food and medicines to just one per household.

Ususan has seen a condominium boom over the last decade, radically transforming one of the oldest villages in old-town Taguig and making the lockdown more difficult to enforce. With its population shooting to more than 54,000, Marcelino had to delegate the distribution of passes in condo villages to property managers.

“Hindi naman po kaya ng katawang lupa na natin yan (Our mortal bodies won’t bear it),” Marcelino said in a Facebook Live broadcast last week.

But people kept on milling about instead of staying indoors.

“Tambay at gala pa more! (Keep on going about!)” a sarcastic Marcelino posted on her Facebook page, as new Covid-19 statistics came in.

Off to Pamayanang Diego Silang Continuation

Posted by Marie Marcelino on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The quarantine pass has become the gold standard in barangay-level containment because it makes for utterly simple strategy: no pass, no go.

But it’s “arguably unnecessary” and is not required by any of the guidelines of the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is leading the Philippines’s Covid-19 response, said Prof. Ador Torneo, director of the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance at De La Salle University.

READ: Local governments bear brunt of pandemic response

“The overall principle is simply to discourage most people from going out unless they are doing something essential. This shouldn’t be difficult to do,” he told PressOne.PH.

‘Problematic, exclusionary’

In many cases, implementation of quarantine passes became problematic, sometimes “exclusionary and prone to abuse,” Torneo said.

There are also coordination and registration issues, such as delayed releasing and problems arising from the non-transferability of passes, he said.

Worse, it could increase the risk of infections, he said, because of queues at the barangay hall and limited “window hours” in supermarkets that have resulted in unnecessary crowding.

Even checkpoints, where passes and IDs are inspected, posed risks.

“It takes just one infected individual to infect the barangay personnel checking his or her ID and engaging the personnel in a verbal exchange. Then everyone else that passes through that checkpoint is at risk,” Torneo said.

21 ‘obligations’ of barangay frontliners

On Monday, Marcelino was back on Facebook, listing 21 “obligations” added to the to-do list of what she called “barangay frontliners.” It was an apparent attempt to address her growing number of bashers on social media.

Her list included the issuance of quarantine passes, distribution of food packs, disinfection, sending people home, dealing with complaints, and following orders from the president, the mayor, the interior department and the IATF.

“‘Wag kalimutang may pamilya ka pang naghihintay sa bahay (Don’t forget your family waiting at home),” the barangay chief wrote.

In terms of pandemic response, Torneo said barangays were “probably the least prepared government unit.”

Torneo said that almost all of the country’s 42,500 barangays, “with a handful of exceptions,” were entirely dependent on their share of national government tax revenues and support from the city or provincial governments.

“And yet, they find themselves at the frontline and having to support and implement what the national government is asking LGUs (local government units) to do, without the corresponding capability and resources,” he said.

Policymakers should keep in mind that dealing with pandemics is an issue of governance, even if the focus is often on the medical or scientific aspect, said Torneo.

“How much support and resources we put behind scientists, medical researchers, and health facilities that serve as our primary line of defense is a matter decided by politics, not biology,” he stressed. (