The shift to the looser GCQ was postponed on the eve of its implementation as Metro Manila mayors who will implement it still had questions on the guidelines, a national government spokesman said Thursday.
The capital region of 12 million people stayed under MECQ instead of shifting to GCQ with granular lockdowns last Wednesday, which dealt further losses to food and beverage businessmen who had to cancel their dine-in preparations also at the last minute.
“Nagkaroon pa rin po ng meeting kahapon (Tuesday), ang ugnayan na ‘to ay kasama po ang mga Metro Manila mayors, at marami rin pong lumabas na mga katanungan doon na maaaring hindi pa rin po naging bahagi ng mga nakalatag o nakahandang guidelines na kinakailangan palawagin,” said Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the National task Force on COVID-19.
The appeal of healthcare workers to stick to a stricter quarantine for another two weeks may have been considered, said Padilla.
“Pero 'yung pinakamalaking bahagi po kasi niyan ay 'yung lumalabas na pangangailangan na mas palawigin pa 'yung guidelines nang sa ganoon, sakop na po lahat ng mga katanungan nung mga Metro Manila mayors at iba pang mga parties na naglabas po ng katanungan at clarification.”
The MECQ was extended until Sept. 15 meaning all forms of dine-in and religious gatherings are banned.
Churches were unable to hide their frustration over the decision, as the extended MECQ also scuttled celebrations for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Padilla said the guidelines on the granular lockdowns were not yet fully disseminated as of Tuesday, the supposed last day of the MECQ. The barangay and street-level lockdowns were supposed to replace the regional lockdowns.
Mayors Isko Moreno of Manila, Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, and Marcy Teodoro of Marikina said they were caught off guard when the government said the capital region would remain under MECQ.
"Nakakalungkot tayo, kasi tanungin n'yo Metro Manila mayors… iba 'yung pinagmeetingan namin ng umaga, pagdating ng hapon nagulat kaming lahat," Moreno said on Wednesday.
The mayors received the guidelines via Viber around 1 p.m. Tuesday "but they did not present any fine-tuned guidelines to us. It was more of a question and answer," said Belmonte.
"Nung binigay sa amin, sabi sa amin 'wag muna i-articulate ang guidelines sapagkat pinag-uusapan pa raw ng IATF," Teodoro told ABS-CBN News. The guidelines were then deleted from the Viber chat.
At around 6:30 p.m., the Palace announced the postponement. Upon hearing the news, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto on Tuesday told his constituents that the local government was also unaware of the last-minute decision.
"We were a little bit surprised because given our limited understanding of what we were supposed to be doing, still we were prepared to do that. All of a sudden there was a change in policy guidelines without having informed us earlier," Belmonte told CNN Philippines.
Belmonte said the concerns raised by mayors were due to the conflicting message "GCQ" (reopening of economy), "alert levels" (restrictions), and "granular lockdowns" (restrictions) can send to their constituents. They also questioned the abrupt introduction of a new policy when COVID-19 infections are at an all-time high.
In the case of the restaurateurs Inchang Mendoza and buffet restaurant Vikings, the planned GCQ with alert level 4 in Metro Manila meant no indoor dining.
"Under alert level 4, pinagbabawal pa rin ang personal care services, dine in. Kahit puwede ang al fresco, alam naman natin na bumabagyo, kumikita ba ang mga negosyo?" Belmonte said.
"So wala nang masyadong pakialam ang national government, kayo na local government, mag-lockdown kayo. Ang issue naman there was, paano naman ang ayuda namin sa mga taong mala-lockdown?" the QC mayor said.
Teodoro said policies should be fine-tuned.
"Para 'di maulit 'yung nangyari kahapon, urong-sulong tayo, laban bawi ang nangyari, ang kredibilidad pati ng ating policymakers ay nalalagay sa alanganin," he said.