Dr. Dean Palanca explains before the City Council the readiness of the city to transition to GCQ citing the COVID-testing facility pegged to be operational on the succeeding months.

Local health authorities have endorsed Palawan’s shift from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a general community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 1, as announced recently by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Dr. Dean Palanca, COVID-19 incident commander for Puerto Princesa City, expressed confidence the city will soon acquire a capacity to conduct mass testing with the setting up of a GenExpert laboratory that can perform confirmatory tests for coronavirus infection.

“Ngayong linggo, may darating para i-assess ‘yong ating GeneXpert machine. Napili ng Department of Health (DOH) na may capacity gawing COVID-testing facility using GeneXpert ang Ospital Ng Palawan (ONP),” Dr. Palance said.

“Maliit na problema ‘yong accreditation ng laboratory at training of personnel but hopefully next month operational na,” he added.

Dr. Audie Cipriano, chief of medical professional staff of Palawan provincial hospital, added that the setting up of the facility supports a downgrading to GCQ.

“GeneXpert testing is the “next good thing” sa COVID-19 confirmatory test. ONP has a bio-safety level two. Personal opinion, puwede na mag-GCQ [since we will have] capacity for mass testing,” Dr. Cipriano said.

Meanwhile, city authorities pushed for tighter border controls even under a GCQ status.

In a public consultation held at the City Council on Monday, councilors Roy Ventura and Herbert Dilig presented two drafts of an ordinance seeking to impose tighter land and sea border checkpoints in order to secure the city’s territorial boundaries and prevent possible transmission of the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Lt. Col. Alonso Tabi Jr., deputy director for operations of the City Philippine National Police (City PNP), said that four border checkpoints had already been designated at the onset of the ECQ and there’s is no need to add further checkpoints at the territorial boundaries of Puerto Princesa.

“Meron na tayong checkpoints sa Barangay Inagawan (south), Napsan (southwest), Langogan (north), at Macarascas (northwest). Okay na ang apat na border checkpoints ang kailangan ay pag-igtingin ang pagbabantay ng barangay health workers (BHW) and PNP,” he said.

Ventura recognized the police recommendation but wanted the City PNP to adjust certain city checkpoints citing that local residents may freely roam the city proper by strategic routes along certain roads.

“Personally, nag-ikot ako at nakakalusot ako sa mga off-road shorcuts mula [Bgy.] San Miguel hanggang Sta. Monica. Siguro ilipat natin ang ibang city checkpoints para strategic na hindi nakakalusot,” Ventura said.

Meanwhile, Dilig expressed concern on the the maritime wing citing the incidence in Bgy. Macarascas where local fishers were reportedly in-and-out of local ports after trading in other provinces even reaching up to Malaysia.

Severino Destura, station commander of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Puerto Princesa City, said that the issue was addressed by “capacitating” the local officials from coastal barangays in manning their jurisdiction.

“Meron na tayong security in place for fish ports, major, minor and private ports. Coastal barangays are capacitated para magbantay since sila ang nakakaalam ng kanilang lugar and they can tap enforcers to report,” Destura said.

Majority floor leader Victor Oliveros clarified if the city curfew may be adjusted citing certain school reopening that usually hold classes beyond 9 p.m.

Tagle was not categorical on the inquiry and said that the city officials have the power to legislate orders as long as it is within the bounds of the national inter-agency task force (IATF) guidelines.

“Wala pang guideline na ibinababa tungkol sa GCQ, pero kung mag-iimpose ang city ng [pagbabago sa curfew hours] basta naman hindi contradictory sa national GCQ guideline, puwede naman ‘yon,” Tagle said.

Local Inter-Agency Task Force

Colonel Romeo Racadio, chief of staff of the Western Command (Wescom), pointed out that Puerto Princesa City, a sole independent component city in the province, is the only local government unit (LGU) in Palawan that has not created its local inter-agency task force (IATF) against COVID-19.

This, however, does not bar the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in extending their support. Racadio recommended creating a local IATF to ensure a seamless directive of all its orders.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) provincial and city director Virgilio Tagle affirmed Racadio’s recommendation citing DILG memorandum circular (MC) No. 2020-077 issued on April 24 vested LGUs the power to simplify the policy-making related to COVID-19 crisis by merely adopting national IATF guidelines.

“Mas madali kung may sariling IATF ang City, katulad noong sa province and municipalities, dahil they can adopt or localize the IATF guidelines. Sang ayon naman ito sa political structure,” Tagle said.

Councilor Nesario Awat expressed concern on the possible overlap between city and provincial IATF guidelines pertaining to permissible inter-municipal transport hampering other municipalities as Puerto Princesa divides the northern and southern provincial jurisdiction.

Palanca said that certain protocols were already in place addressing emergency and essential travels.

Eight suspect COVID-19 patients in Palawan remained to wait for their test results. The island province recorded a total of 36 suspect COVID-19 cases, 15 of whom were admitted while the test were under strict home quarantine as of Sunday afternoon (3 p.m., April 26).