'Mag-usap muna sila': Govt's policy flip-flops hurting Filipino workers, says Robredo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — Instead of sowing confusion and pointing fingers, Vice President Leni Robredo urged public officials anew to coordinate with each other before making announcements on various COVID policies.

This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to retain the one-meter physical distancing in public transport, a week after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases implemented its reduction to 0.75 meter.

"Eto naman yung lagi nating sinasabi, bago sana gagawa ng public statement, mag-usap-usap muna sila," Robredo said Sunday in her weekly radio show.

[Translation: We always say that before they make a public statement, they should talk among each other.]

"Kasi ito yung pinakaproblema natin lagi, magdedeklara yung isang ahensya, kokontrahin ng isa. Paminsan-minsan nasusubo na yung ibang mga [tao]," she added.

[Translation: Our main problem always traces back to whenever one agency makes a declaration and another opposes it. It's the people who are eventually affected.]

Robredo cited the situation of workers, including jeepney and motorcycle drivers who had to constantly adjust to the newly announced protocols by buying protective barriers and other resources that would make them compliant to the rules before plying their routes.

"Gumagastos mga motorsiklo, ngayon yung mga jeep. Sana pag hindi pa pinapag-usapan, 'wag munang sabihin... dati na nga [silang] walang kita, napapagastos pa."

[Translation: Motorcycles, jeepney drivers are the ones wasting their money. I hope whenever policies are not yet properly discussed, officials would refrain from making announcements...it's the drivers who have not been earning, and they're taking much more from their pockets.]

Last September 14, the IATF started to implement the recommendation of the Department of Transportation to further reduce the space between commuters inside public transportation to 0.75 meter. The distance was supposed to be further reduced to 0.5 meter after two weeks, then down to 0.3 after another 14 days.

But in the middle of the week, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III expressed doubts about the move, saying that keeping the distance at one meter was the minimum health standard according to science.

Both secretaries said they were not present at the IATF meeting where the move was discussed and eventually approved.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines last Wednesday that the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force had crafted its fresh recommendations on the much-debated transport protocol that was "based on science" but Duterte himself will have to make the final decision.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade admitted in a congressional hearing last Tuesday that while relaxed distancing is not a concrete solution, the department had to come up with ways to further open the economy.

He also insisted that the decision was not made out of mere "knee-jerk reaction," but after actual research and actual consultations with medical experts, including some from the Philippine Medical Association.

In August, authorities eventually decided to forego the rule on barriers as a requirement for motorcycle backriding, including cohabiting couples, after repeatedly imposing riders to install one despite risk of accidents on the road.