THEN HEALTH SECRETARY Francisco Duque III administering COVID vaccine on President Duterte while Sen. Bong Go looks on in this file photo.

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA — Bouyed by reports of dipping cases of new corona virus in the National Capital Region and other areas and the continued arrival of vaccines and stepped up vacci nation, President Rodrigo Duterte  warned that arrest of protocol violators is now “mandatory” as they continue to defy the strict quarantine and health rules amid the prevailing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.Duterte aired the warning and order  in his taped public address after Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año’s report about three “super spreader” events that contributed to the spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.

At the same time, Duterte ordered the arrest of local officials, especially the barangay chairmen who fail to enforce the ban on parties, picnics, and other mass gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the independent OCTA Research called for the extension of the general community quarantine (GCQ) in NCR Plus until  June as it urged that the country should target to vaccinate 50% of the population in Metro Manila and six other areas at high risk for COVID-19 to achieve herd containment.

In a report, the independent team of experts said 50% of the population must be vaccinated in Metro Manila and the cities of Tuguegarao, Santiago, Baguio, Cainta, Cebu, and Imus due to their high COVID-19 attack rates. At press time, more than four million have been vaccinated in the country, including 80 percent of medical workers.

As of May 26, a total of 4,495,375 Filipinos have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, 1,029,061 of them now fully protected, said Health Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations chairperson Myrna Cabotaje.

OCTA Research Group fellow Professor Guido David said “the numbers are still high” despite a decline in the average of new Covid-19 cases per day was seen in NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal.

“While we believe we can relax restrictions, we think we should try to retain the GCQ at this time because the cases are still significant. We want to avoid situations wherein people become very complacent because they feel that the situation has improved significantly, that there are no more cases when in fact there are still cases,” David said.

In a related development, those found illegally selling COVID-19 vaccination slots will be dealt with the full force of the law, according MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos as one allegedly involved in the scam has surrendered.

Año, in a meeting in Malacañan Palace, told Duterte that two people who were seen swimming at the Ciudad sa Gubat resort in Valenzuela on May 9 tested positive for Covid-19, while 54 others got infected with coronavirus after attending a pool party in Nagkaisang Nayon village in Quezon City from May 9 to 11.

The DILG chief added that the government is now tracing people who went on a picnic in Norzagaray, Bulacan on May 23.

Duterte lamented that many Filipinos continue to be “stubborn” and do not mind catching the coronavirus and infecting others.

“Huwag niyo akong pilitin na talagang pahirapan ko kayo (Do not force me to put you in a difficult situation),” he said. “Kapag nagpositive ka, dadamputin ka talaga, bantay kayo (If you tested positive for Covid-19, you will really be arrested. Watch out). And I make it mandatory.”

In his briefing, Duterte said barangay chairs would be liable for dereliction of duty under the Revised Penal Code if they failed to prevent the gatherings in their respective jurisdictions.

Duterte gave the order to the Philippine National Police and all law enforcement agencies after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año reported the recent incidents of mass gatherings including picnics and parties.

Earlier, a Filipino crew member of MV Athens Bridge who was found carrying the B.1.167 coronavirus variant first detected in India has passed away, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported.

The seaman, who was confined in a hospital in Metro Manila, died on May 21 after his bout with severe COVID-19 infection, she said.

On May 17, Duterte warned that he might be forced to reimpose “stricter” quarantine measures, in the event that Filipinos continue to disregard the protocols.

Duterte’s latest warning came, as he said it is a “crime” for a Covid-19 carrier to infect “innocent” Filipinos.

“And it’s criminal for you to get the Covid and pass it on to another innocent person. It is really a crime. Maghanap ako ngayon ng batas kung paano kayo ipahuli ng pulis at idetain for committing crimes (I will really review the law to see how police can arrest and detain you for committing crimes),” he said.

Duterte was saddened that many are still ignoring the government’s repeated calls to follow minimum public health standards.

“Most of you are committing a crime kasi alam niyo na (because you know that) after gathering, after swimming together, a lot of you get positive for Covid-19. Parang binabalewala niyo ang pakiusap ng gobyerno (You are defying the government’s appeal),” he said.

Duterte also reminded the local officials to ensure the strict implementation of quarantine and health protocols amid the pandemic.

He warned that they could also face arrest for “dereliction of duty,” in case their constituents continue to ignore the anti-coronavirus measures.

“It will be the job of the municipal mayors, city mayors and the barangay captains,” he said. “I am not requesting for help. I am telling you that it is your duty to prevent this kind of events happening in your jurisdiction.”

Duterte said the end of the Covid-19 pandemic would be far from over if Filipinos brush aside the “danger of congregating.”

“Much as we would like to reduce Covid cases, eh kung ganoon ang ginagawa ninyo, walang katapusan na itong p***** i**** ito kasi lahat kayo magkahawaan na naman (if you are doing that, this son of a b**** will not end because you will end up infecting each other),” Duterte said.

He said the funds for pandemic response efforts would run out, should they continue to flout protocols.

“Wala tayong pera forever na magsabi sa inyo na sige mag-Covid kayong lahat (We do not have the money forever to say that it is fine for all of you to catch Covid),” Duterte said.