The city government of Baguio started implementing temporary restrictions on the entry of residents from La Trinidad, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan, all in Benguet, until Dec. 4, to give way to the expanded testing in these towns.
Residents of Itogon are excluded from the restricted access as the municipality has already implemented a lockdown two weeks earlier.
However, this move has been met with widespread criticism especially by residents from the affected towns with some suggesting that La Trinidad, Tuba, Sablan, and Tublay should also restrict entry of Baguio residents to their towns.
They said Mayor Benjamin Magalong’s decision has negated the cooperative form of governance and development between Baguio City and its neighboring towns in Benguet, through the BLISTT concept that promotes mutual cooperation among member LGUs.
Those who criticized the city’s move said restricted entry of non-Baguio residents is not only inconvenient for residents of adjoining towns; it is also not an effective way to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19.
“Baguio cannot isolate itself from its neighbors,” citizens commented.
In a press conference Wednesday, lawyer Althea Alberto, focal person of the city government on travel, said parallel with the conduct of expanded testing in Baguio, neighboring towns should do the same.
She added the restricted entry is not meant to “stop” the spread of the virus, but only to mitigate it and one way of doing this is through containment and contact tracing.
“Their contact tracing team has to identify clusters and that can only be done if there are restrictions in movement,” Alberto told the Courier.
Prior to the regulated entry of non-residents, LISTT residents were treated like Baguio residents – they were allowed to travel in and out of the city without need to present travel permits or medical certificate save for presentation of quarantine passes when going to the market.
For two weeks beginning Nov. 21 until Dec. 4, only those who work in private and government establishments and those needing medical treatment will be permitted to enter Baguio.
The move was coordinated with Gov. Melchor Diclas; the regional Covid-19 task force; the Office of Civil Defense; the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council; the Department of the Interior and Local Government; the Provincial Health Office; municipal health officials of La Trinidad, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan; and the Department of Health-Cordillera.
Alberto said the duty of informing the affected residents rests with the municipal officials.
“It is not a surprise (move). “We (Baguio representatives) have been engaging with them prior to Mayor Magalong’s issuance of the advisory on temporary restricted access to Baguio,” she said.
Alberto belied claims the restriction is meant to lock out its neighbors. As stated in the advisory, it may be amended as the situation dictates. “It is not cast in stone,” she said.
She said Magalong’s inclusion of the neighboring Benguet towns when he is soliciting test kits, the city government’s permission to also use the Teachers’ Camp as isolation facility for returning overseas Filipino workers from Benguet and Mountain Province, and the city’s identification of an area as an isolation facility solely for Benguet are testaments that Baguio is not abandoning its neighbors.
The advisory has encouraged those who work in Baguio but reside in La Trinidad, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan to explore a work-from-home setup.
Only health workers, personnel of the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and members of the contact tracing team are allowed to move freely between the borders of Baguio, La Trinidad, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan.
Documents to be presented at Baguio checkpoints include: government-issued ID card as proof of residency; any document as proof of employment or business in Baguio City; medical certificate issued by the Provincial Health Office or the Municipal Health Office stating that the resident is not a possible, probable, or suspect case of Covid-19 and that he or she did not exhibit flu-like symptoms in the last five days; and quarantine pass for those accessing essential goods from Sablan, Tublay, and Tuba.
In case a worker does not have a medical certificate, he or she will be directed to the Baguio City Central Triage Unit for assessment. Those who need to enter Baguio for medical procedures, consultations, or appointments, shall present a government-issued ID stating their residence and their doctor’s referral slip or confirmation of appointment.
Baguio residents have also been advised to limit their travels to La Trinidad, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan. – Rimaliza A. Opiña