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BAGUIO CITY – On April 8, with over ten days since the last confirmed case of COVID-19 infection in the area, the mayors of Baguio City, La Trinidad, and the rest of the BLISTT (Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay) Governing Council (GC) met with frontline regional line agencies (RLAs) and NEDA-CAR as the secretariat to address concerns on the Luzonwide extended community quarantine (ECQ) until April 30. As of April 10, 4 out of the six provinces of the Cordillera remain Covid-19 free while Baguio City and the BLISTT area remained Covid-19 for thirteen days until the latest case was confirmed on April 10.
The municipality of Tuba is the “first line of defense” on two major gateways into the BLISTT and assured the Council and the RLAs that it remains steadfast in the strict enforcement of checkpoint rules along its main highways. A significant percentage of travelers to Baguio City and the other parts of the Cordillera pass through Tuba via Marcos Highway and Kennon Road. As the chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council, Mayor Magalong committed closer coordination with the Benguet Provincial Police and the Baguio City Police in providing adequate personnel in the Tuba checkpoints.
Meanwhile, Mayor Armando Lauro of Tublay asserted that his municipality will no longer allow the use of areas of Tublay as a staging area for chicken dung transportation. He expressed his concern for the safety of his constituents while allowing the unhampered transportation of fertilizers. He also said that Tublay will closely monitor the passage of trucks loaded with chicken dung.
Mayor Magalong said that the Baguio General Hospital (BGH) serves Regions I, II and the Cordillera, being the only sub-national accredited Covid-19 testing center north of Metro Manila. DOH-CAR Regional Director Amelita Pangilinan shared that by April 13, BGH could already ramp up their testing, as needed, from 2,600 per day to 7,000 with the incoming kits from Manila.
Pangilinan also welcomed the efforts of Cordillera office of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-CAR) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) to use geospatial mapping to aid decision-making and monitoring of the enhanced community quarantine. DOST-CAR presented real-time Covid-19 surveillance and community-needs mapping system based on GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping. The system will map out suspected, probable, and confirmed cases that will facilitate contact tracing. It will also show the needs of a particular area in terms of relief and health services. NEDA-CAR has also started collecting data and mapping health facilities, pharmacies and other allied medical services throughout the BLISTT area. This could be used to ensure that people do not flock in one specific facility and that needs could be addressed more effectively. Further enhancements will be made to the University of the Cordillera-DOST GIS project particularly in integrating the contact tracing system currently being utilized by the city of Baguio.
The regional director of the Cordillera office of the Department of Agriculture (DA-CAR) Cameron Odsey assured that Cordillera has more than an adequate supply of vegetables. He mentioned that DA-CAR links vegetable farmers and dealers and facilitates the unhampered transportation of farm products. Cordillera farmers not only provide high-value crops to the region but also to the rest of Luzon. The regional economic response task unit led by NEDA-CAR urged the Cordillera local governments to buy produce from their local farmers to use as part of relief packs, as was commenced by the province of Abra.
Cordillera office regional director of the Department of Trade and Industry Myrna Pablo shared that as the price freeze is still in effect nationwide, local governments should convene their Local Price Coordinating Councils to monitor and set realistic prices for essential goods. Pablo also shared that rolling stores have been set up in barangay clusters in Baguio City. However, she acknowledged that although as grocery stores in the city are willing to cooperate, they could not sustain the supply as national manufacturers have cut down their production with the ECQ.
DILG Regional Director Marlo Iringan shared that Department of Local Government and Interior and Department of Social Welfare and Development have been receiving multiple calls from not just from BLISTT but all Cordillera citizens since the start of the enhanced ECQ that were mainly questions and complaints about checkpoints, but now, “it is mostly about relief and the social amelioration program,” he said.
Mayor Victorio Palangdan expressed that while social media has been a big help in disseminating the necessary information, there is a need to tap other media platforms, especially radio, to inform more citizens on the overall situation of the enhanced community quarantine for the entire Benguet area. As the president of the Benguet Mayors’ League, Palangdan proposed a press conference in the middle of April that would detail the plans and programs of the different municipalities of Benguet, the Benguet provincial government and city of Baguio, particularly on local implementation price freezes and social amelioration.
Further, NEDA-CAR is also working with the BLISTT mayors to prepare for economic rehabilitation with GC Vice-Chair and Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan cited the establishment of Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) ecozones in the LISTT municipalities as a significant help to the area’s economy.
A few days before the national government instituted a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, the BLISTT mayors signed a memorandum of agreement with the PEZA to pursue and establish economic zones in the LISTT municipalities. PEZA, which operates an economic zone in Baguio City, remains an integral part of not only Baguio City’s economy but the entire economy of the Cordillera. Palangdan sought the help of NEDA-CAR and DENR-CAR to lift the permit restrictions on abandoned mines in Itogon and enable the city government to develop the unused lands above these mines to establish an eco-zone for Itogon.
As front-line agencies focus on responding to the immediate concerns related to the ECQ implementation, NEDA-CAR is preparing for the formulation of a region-wide recovery and rehabilitation plan. NEDA-CAR, as the vice chair for rehabilitation and recovery of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, has worked with various agencies to collect data for the formulation of a plan based on NEDA’s national recommendation for an “establishing a new normal” framework that is more prepared for and resilient to pandemics and other impending global concerns.