Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan, who said he wasn’t consulted by the Department of Health (DOH) about the plan, was backed by the Capas municipal council which unanimously approved a resolution refusing to allow the use of the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City (NCC) as a quarantine site where the Filipinos from China would be kept in isolation while being observed for syptoms of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) for 14 days.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), slammed Catacutan for his “unpatriotic stance.”
“This is not the time for the mayor to oppose and act like a spoiled king and question the prerogative of the national government to turn the facilities located in Capas town [into a] quarantine [area for] our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) from Hubei,” TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said.
“DILG should slap Catacutan with a warning for obstructing a national health emergency prerogative to save our OFWs and their rescuers away from possible exposure to the virus outbreak,” Tanjusay said.
About 56 OFWs were to be flown back to the country on Sunday from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has already killed more than 720 and infected nearly 35,000 in China and more than 24 other countries and territories as of Saturday.
From the Clark International Airport, the OFWs will be bused to the Athletes’ Village where they will stay for the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
The Capas municipal council resolution said allowing the use of the Athletes’ Village would “create a stigma and defeat the original intention of attracting investors in the area.”
About 500 people led by Capas officials on Saturday rallied against the plan to use the sports facility as a quarantine area.
Carrying placards saying “No to Capas as a Quarantine Area,” the protesters gathered for a prayer vigil at Sitio Kamatis, a predominantly Aeta community just meters aways from Athletes’ Village. No Aeta representatives were seen at the rally.
Vice Mayor Roseller Rodriguez said the municipal government would seek a temporary restraining order to stop additional batches of Filipinos from China from being quarantined at the sports facility.
He said the local government would argue that it was not properly consulted about the quarantine plan, which could put the health of its constituents at risk and undermine the economic prospects of Capas as well as NCC.
Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo had assured the town officials and residents that there was nothing to fear because the repatriated workers would not interact with the public.
He said only the “healthy and asymptomatic” OFWs would be taken to the NCC, while those showing symptoms of 2019-nCoV would be immediately sent to a hospital.
The Bases Conversion and Development Authority has full jurisdiction over NCC, which straddles the towns of Capas and Bamban. The Athletes’ Village was built for the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year.
TUCP Rep. Raymond Mendoza urged the airline which would fly the Filipinos back home to give its pilots and cabin crew a paid 14-day leave while they, too, are quarantined, in addition to hazard pay.
There is currently no government regulation providing hazard pay to employees involved in an “extraordinary and dangerous job” like repatriating Filipinos from places stricken by an outbreak of diseases, Mendoza said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva on Saturday said officials and residents of Capas had legitimate fears but these could be assuaged if the government showed “sufficient capacity to contain the virus if someone gets infected.”
Sen. Bong Go appealed for compassion and understanding for the OFWs returning from Wuhan, saying they were heroes who had gone through a lot of hardships away from their families.
Go said that if no town would accept the Filipinos from Wuhan, he would look for a place in Mindanao for them.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes it would be better to keep Filipinos in Wuhan where he thinks they would be safer. He is concerned that they will face discrimination or will be shunned here.
—With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Maria Adelaida Calayag