As early as March 17, 2020, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) had already issued protocols regarding cargo trucks arriving at various ports across the country during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
According to documents furnished to the Tribune, separate directives issued by PPA General Manager Atty. Jay Daniel R. Santiago showed there was no reason for the PPA management in the island to deny the provincial government’s request to use the facilities at the ports of Virac and San Andres as quarantine area for arriving truck drivers and helpers.
It may be recalled that days into the ECQ, the Provincial Task Force on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (PTF-EREID) had asked the local PPA to allow the use of their facilities for such a purpose but was denied by the port in-charge, who claimed it was against existing PPA policy.
The Tribune learned last week that under Memorandum Circular No. 10-2020 issued on March 17, 2020, the PPA general manager provided guidelines in the implementation of community quarantine in all Luzon ports under its jurisdiction.
The circular was issued to ensure the unhampered movement of cargoes within, to and from the entire Luzon and the movement of accompanying crew or personnel of transiting cargoes in PPA ports in Luzon.
“Ports shall continue to be open to cargo ships provided that there will strictly be no embarkation/disembarkation of crew and subject to the requirements of the Bureau of Quarantine/ Department of Health,” GM Santiago stated. “All passenger ships shall not be allowed entry in ports.”
It likewise provided a protocol for all trucks carrying cargoes coming from any port in Luzon.
“Trucks carrying cargoes which will require traversing a body or bodies of water, or from one island to another, shall be required to unload the cargoes in the next port of call and transfer the same to another truck or vehicle, or, in the alternative, engage a different driver and a maximum of two helpers provided by the trucking company/shipper/consignees for the continued voyage of the trucks and cargoes to their final destination,” the circular stated.
This was exactly the idea of the PTF-EREID when it made the request at the height of the original quarantine period.
“In all cases, truck drivers and helpers shall be subjected to strict health screening at the ports before they will be allowed to enter or leave the port and proceed to their subsequent or final destination,” the PPA manager concluded.
In an amendment made on April 3, 2020, Atty. Santiago clarified that said cargo trucks shall be allowed continuous access to and from said ports, with the carrying of empty containers for withdrawal or repositioning also ensured continuous entry.
The PPA official likewise included Local Government Units among the agencies, aside from the BOQ and DOH, which shall subject the truck drivers and helpers to stringent health protocols.
For several meetings, at least one cargo consignee with political connections resisted the task force’s efforts to implement the proposed protocol for cargo trucks arriving at the island’s two ports.
The consignee has alleged that it did not have its own truck to get the cargo to be unloaded at the ports by the truck of its Metro Manila supplier.
As of last week, cargo trucks arriving by ferry at the port of Virac have been allowed to deliver their merchandise to local warehouses and consignees, with the truck and its crew subjected to disinfection and health checks by health personnel to prevent anyone with COVID-19 symptoms from entering the island.
In the island province of Masbate, the provincial government has refused to allow arriving cargo trucks and personnel to go out of the port facility in its bid to keep the coronavirus at bay.
In last week’s meeting of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), a ranking officer of the Catanduanes Police Provincial Office reportedly justified the continued delivery of cargo by the trucks outside the port, claiming that a memorandum issued to the Philippine National Police (PNP) directs the unhampered passage of exempted cargo vehicles.
The memo issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) also provides that “the LGU must not impose unnecessary guidelines or protocols that would otherwise defeat the purpose of the exemption” allowing the speedy transport of essential goods and items.
It also stated that only PNP personnel are allowed to inspect cargo trucks.