Included in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the right of every citizen to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of the State.
The importance of this universal right comes to fore following the case of a resident of Bato who was allowed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to return home after being confined at a Naga City hospital during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
Upon her discharge from the hospital on April 25, the patient secured the required permits from the regional IATF as well as the medical certificate attesting that she was free to travel back to Catanduanes.
Armed with the documents, travel permits and clearances as well as a letter of acceptance from the municipal mayor of Bato, she arrived in the province on May 9 but her return to her residence in barangay Cabugao was blocked by the barangay captain.
According to Catanduanes police provincial director Col. Paul Abay, the municipal health officer of Bato soon changed his mind on allowing her to come home and ordered that she spend two to three days at the Catanduanes Doctors Hospital, Inc. (CDHI).
In last Monday’s meeting of the provincial IATF headed by Governor Joseph Cua, PD Abay questioned the authority of the barangay captain to prevent the former hospital patient from coming home despite being allowed to by higher authorities.
Rightly, the provincial director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) stressed that under existing rules, there is no reason to prevent her return home in the absence of COVID-19 symptoms, as long as she is turned over for monitoring by the Barangay Health Emergency Response Tram (BHERT) in Cabugao.
“Nakakaawa naman sila kung malagay sila sa ganitong sitwasyon,” Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes said in asking the provincial IATF to come up with a unified protocol for arrivals from the mainland that would be adopted by the local government units.
While the problem has been hopefully resolved by the PIATF’s issuance of an order directing the concerned Punong Barangay to allow the woman to return to her residence, Dr. Palmes’ call for a common stance regarding returnees that are expected to arrive on the island in the coming weeks deserves to be taken up by the task force as soon as possible.
If the national guidelines provide that returnees who have tested negative for COVID-19 be allowed to go home without undergoing yet another 14-day quarantine at a government facility, so be it.
The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), for example, have nearly exhausted their personal funds during their forced isolation for more than a month. There is no further need to extend their suffering.
All the provincial IATF, and its counterparts down the line, can do is to ensure that the condition of the arriving constituent’s health is properly monitored at home by the BHERT and the Rural Health Units.