MANILA--A month-long community quarantine in response to the growing coronavirus threat got underway in the Philippines' capital on Sunday after officials amended a plan to inspect all vehicles at checkpoints and shifted to a "softer approach."
Some 20,000 police were deployed to the National Capital Region's (NCR) borders, but physical barriers were lifted as vehicles were allowed to pass through while authorities review results of the first day of the quarantine, a source from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) said.
In Quezon City, Metro Manila's largest territory, checkpoint signages were mounted but "a lot of motorists passing through the Balintawak toll plaza were not really sure if a checkpoint was going to be in place," ABS-CBN reporter Jeff Canoy said.
Vehicles entering Metro Manila via the South Luzon expressway were also allowed to pass through.
In McArthur highway, the boundary between Valenzuela and Bulacan, police flagged some motorcycle riders and were asked to present proof of identification.
Authorities "were careful not to call it as a checkpoint, but as police visibility operations."
"Motorists were unsure of the difference. Nevertheless, they just followed what was asked of them," ABS-CBN correspondent Kevin Manalo reported.
"The policemen are just letting some motorists pass by," he said.
Some motorists plying along the Batasan-San Mateo Road were subjected to temperature checks.
The Philippine National Police has yet to give a clear explanation on the inconsistent procedures in checkpoints.
"Wala pa advice, eh ang plano namin sana implement namin ngayon," Northern Police District Director Brig. Gen. Ronnie Ylagan said.
METRO MANILA CURFEW
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) earlier announced that NCR would be under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew during the quarantine.
As of Sunday midnight, only Pasig City has issued a curfew order. The MMDA said 16 other local governments in the capital region have yet to implement a curfew in their respective jurisdictions.
President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to approve the curfew, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
"The Metro Manila mayors’ recommendation to impose a curfew in Metro Manila is subject to the approval of the President. The President has yet to consider it," he said.
Under the law, curfews may be imposed through the issuance of city ordinances. An ordinance, issued by mayors, requires the approval by the city council, but does not need to pass through Malacañang.
DON'T EXPECT A 'SMOOTH OPERATION'
Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said there may be some "inconveniences" as the Philippines has "not faced this situation in our entire history."
"Let us not expect a smooth operation... Maybe on Monday we will have a better implementation of the directive because this was all very fast," Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told ANC.
"The decision was just made the other day and we are implementing all of these guidelines in a manner that leaves us with very little time to prepare everything," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte announced the month-long quarantine on March 12, after a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the capital region.
“It’s a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here… It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” Duterte said in a public address to the Filipino nation.
As of March 14, 111 patients in the Philippines tested positive for COVID-19. Eight have died, 2 recovered, while 101 others remain confined in hospitals.
The Philippines is currently under a state of public health emergency as the government tries to quell the spread of the virus that originated from Wuhan, China.
The World Health Organization declared the disease as a global pandemic after it killed nearly 5,000 people and infected 110,000 others worldwide.
- with details from Jeff Canoy, Dennis Datu, Kevin Manalo, Arra Perez, Raffy Santos and Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News.