Enforcers urged to be lenient on first day of Luzon quarantine as citizens left 'uninformed'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 17)— Officials manning checkpoints for the Luzon-wide quarantine were urged to be more lenient on the first day of the measure's implementation, as some Filipinos struggle to get home.

Interior Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told CNN Philippines that some commuter-workers were left stranded on Tuesday as they were not informed of President Rodrigo Duterte's latest directive.

Malaya admitted the task force has yet to iron out the specific details and guidelines of the "enhanced" community quarantine, which restricts movement of people in mainland Luzon to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

"Ang recommendation ko in the meantime, kahit luwagan natin nang kaunti kasi 'yun iba, na-trap sila. Naiistranded sila, gusto nilang umuwi pero hindi sila makauwi," Malaya said in an interview with Newsroom Ngayon.

[Translation: My recommendation in the meantime is for officials to be more lax because some were trapped. They are stranded, they wanted to go home but they couldn't do so.]

"Again, these are first-day implementation problems, which (are) normal in any situation," he added.

Several commuters and employees of exempted business sectors were left roaming the streets and searching for rides to work early morning, but to no avail. The public mass transportation in Metro Manila and other areas in the island have been suspended in accordance with the executive's quarantine order.

Malaya said the "kinks" in the rollout of the directive are expected to normalize in the next few days.

He said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board will be sending out vehicles to help fetch the stranded passengers, while also urging the local government units to do the same.

'Not aware? No excuses'

The Philippine National Police meanwhile lamented the lack of information dissemination, saying there's "no excuse" for Filipinos not to know the latest developments in the government.

"I just don't know where these people come from. There's news, there's social media, and I think there's no excuse for anybody not knowing things. It's a national concern... dapat sana, aware ang mga tao (I hope people are aware)," PNP chief PBGen Archie Gamboa told CNN Philippines' The Source. A Social Weather Stations survey released in 2019, however, said that only half (or 46 percent) of Filipino adults use the internet. 

Gamboa likewise stressed that those who would violate the provisions of the island-wide quarantine may be subject to administrative charges as well as arrest.

"We very well know that the law excuses no one. Sinabihan kanina ang patrols na hulihin niyo lahat, kung kailangang i-impound natin lahat (they instructed the patrols to arrest everyone, and to impound cars if needed) ... so that the people will see that really, we will enforce the law," the police chief noted.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said that those who violate the quarantine may face arrest for resisting and disobeying a person in authority.

Those who use force in resisting the quarantine may be arrested for assault, and for violating Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

Malaya, however, emphasized that officials should give way for "humanitarian consideration", especially when the guidelines and exemptions are not yet clear.

COVID-19, now considered by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, has infected over 180,000 individuals in 155 countries including China, the epicenter of the infectious disease's outbreak.

The Philippines has meanwhile recorded over 100 new confirmed cases in a span of days, prompting the government to enforce the home quarantine measure (except for essential services) and suspension of transportation services. 

CNN Philippines' Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.