Checkpoints are not new. Vehicles or persons are generally allowed to pass through these checkpoints after a customary visual inspection and answering a few questions, or more recently, upon presentment of quarantine passes. Under non-pandemic circumstances, vehicles are stopped and extensively searched on reasonable belief of commission of a felony or violation of special penal laws. Today, the lockdown is still on in this dystopian, post-apocalyptic Panem-like situation. This “hunger games” saga is on until the corona and the capitol give in.
The “stay at home” calls are loud. It has instilled fear on everyone. The enhanced community quarantine in effect practically nationwide behooves the different local government units to implement emergency measures within their jurisdictions, to stem the spread of the virus and protect their constituents.
However, verified reports state that in some areas, unstandardized checkpoints turn unreasonable and impractical, defeating, rather than promoting, social distancing measures. Farmers of vegetables from Benguet or watermelons from Iloilo have sent notices that they are being blocked at the congested quarantine checkpoint areas. Even the frontliners are made to wait at the checkpoints.
The frontlines – pictures capture the guards, cashiers, baggers from the local grocery and pharmacy, packers of vegetables and fruits in small shops, delivery guys, drivers of trucks carrying goods, and garbage collectors. The list goes on and is not limited to the doctors and nurses. The frontlines hold each one of us at distance from the real enemy. They protect and keep us stronger, to heal and be healthy in the care and love of our very homes.
To make sure the food chain is protected, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) including the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Philippine National Police (PNP) should ensure that the movement of cargo and personnel is left unhampered.
The DTI came out with a memorandum circular dated March 19, 2020 that seeks to speed up the movement of cargo and personnel in the following industries: (a) manufacturing of food and essential products, medicines and medical supplies that includes all food, essential and hygiene products such as soaps, detergents, disinfectants; medicines and vitamins; medical products such as PPEs, masks, gloves. This covers distribution and logistics to support manufacturing activities including cargo handling, warehousing, trucking and port operations; (b) retail establishments that includes groceries, supermarkets, hypermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and drug stores); and (3) export and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies.
It is crystal-clear that the movement of cargoes, food and non-food, shall remain unimpeded while the country is facing this public health emergency. If subjected to random inspection, the cargoes shall be allowed to pass through. Not delayed.
But many are starving. Stories of residents of Sitio San Roque, Quezon City and those waiting for the packs of sardines and rice from the barangays are trending. Sadly, there are still cities or municipalities, especially outside Metro Manila, that cannot extend help. There must be help coming from the social welfare department.
The right to adequate food and requisite supplies to sustain a life must be protected at all costs. The chain of supply from food production, distribution, consumption and other configurations must not be interrupted. The glaring reality is that there are roadblocks that only exacerbate the burdens of people locked in the quarantine areas.
It is unfortunate that vegetables from Benguet are being thrown out by the farmers from the wing vans and left to rot, when there are hungry stomachs and the markets are empty. The talipapas and the sidewalk vegetable vendors are gone. The DA, the local farmers associations and others in the chain must work together to surmount the challenge that threatens to strike at the very core of the survival of the family and of the entire nation.
In our country and other parts of the world, this pandemic is as catastrophic as what happened in the fictional District 12 of the “Hunger Games.” Many people have lost their no work-no pay jobs. The sectors in the laylayan are waiting, too. And countless of frontliners are among them. Until this lockdown is over, or at least until the barriers at the checkpoint gates are lifted, uncertainty prevails. The supply chains must be unlocked for the sake of the entire nation.