No to scrapping of Travel Authority Eleazar

THE Philippine National Police and the Joint Task Force COVID Shield have expressed their strong opposition to a proposal to scrap the issuance of Travel Authority in the country saying such move would trigger the flow of countless persons who may be virus carriers and jeopardize the government’s ongoing effort to help prevent further spread of the unseen killer virus.

Last week, PNP chief, General Archie Francisco F. Gamnoa ordered all police commanders nationwide to defer the issuance of Travel Authority to Locally-Stranded Individuals or LSIs in their areas who are bound to any part of Eastern Visayas especially in COVID-hit Cebu City until further notice.

Joint Task Force COVID Shield Commander, Lieutenant Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar maintained that the issuance of Travel Authority is actually one of the main weapons of the government in preventing the spread of the deadly virus.

The official said he is opposed to proposals to remove Travel Authority as a requirement for LSIs who cross the borders of Metro Manila and provinces since in reality, the document is actually one of the essential first layers of defense against the unseen killer virus.

Lt. Gen. Eleazar  said the main purpose of compelling people to secure Travel Authority is to ensure that they are not carriers of the coronavirus to their points of destination—the reason why a Medical Clearance Certificate is one of the two major requirements needed to be allowed to travel.

The other requirement is coordination with the Local Government Unit-destination in order to advise local officials to prepare for the arrival of the LSIs that include implementation of the localized quarantine protocols, he added.

“There are still a lot of LGUs which has zero cases of Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) so we really have to understand their efforts of protecting their constituents from incoming travelers. This is the logic behind the importance of coordination as one of the requirements before a Travel Authority is issued,” the official explained.

“If we are to remove Travel Authority as a requirement for travels outside Metro Manila, outside a province and highly-urbanized cities, then we would practically render the quarantine protocols useless,” he added.

Eleazar also explained that if Travel Authority is removed and LSIs are allowed to travel using only the Medical Clearance Certificate, the receiving LGUs will have no way of being informed about the arrival of the travelers in their respective areas.

“This would be a big problem for the receiving LGUs since they would be caught unprepared on the arrival of the LSIs.  At the same time, the LSIs may end up being barred entry because of the existing local quarantine protocols. Either way, this poses a problem so coordination with receiving LGUs through the Travel Authority requirement is indeed necessary,” he stressed.

Since LSIs have been allowed to travel back to their hometowns, the issuance of Travel Authority has been added to the responsibility of the PNP commanders since it is the policemen who mainly man and supervise Quarantine Control Points where the document is being checked. The presence of PNP in all cities and municipalities also made the police a good choice to facilitate the coordination on the arrival of the LSIs.

Eleazar said the JTF COVID Shield, mainly through the PNP is bound to comply with the instructions especially from the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of the Emerging Infections Diseases through the National Task Force Against COVID-19, to control the movement of the people as a tried-and-tested measure to contain the spread of the fatal virus.

And since the fight against the COVID-19 is a whole of government approach, he said  they also have to take into consideration the local quarantine protocols of the LGUs which would receive the LSIs.

As such, he said the speed or delay in the issuance of Travel Authority depends on the result of the coordination with the Local Government Units (LGUs) which are also implementing their own health safety protocols that include placing the arriving LSIs under quarantine.

“If there is no coordination with the LGU-destination, it would also be to the disadvantage of the LSIs and other travelers since there is a possibility that they would be barred entry and would be forced to stay at the borders of a town or city,” the official said.

He cited the case wherein hundreds of LSIs were stranded between the boundary of Quezon and Bicol region at the height of the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine  in the entire Luzon as they were not allowed entry due to the implementation of local quarantine rules.

“We do not want it to happen again and that is why the concept of Travel Authority was approved for the smooth travel of our LSIs,” the official said.

Eleazar said efforts have already been made to facilitate the release of a Travel Authority in favor of the travelers, including the decision of PNP chief, General Gamboa to give the chiefs of police and station commanders the power to issue a Travel Authority, and Secretary of the Interior and Local Government Eduardo Año’s order to set up a ‘One-Stop Shop’ for the issuance of Travel Authority in all cities and municipalities of the country.

Securing a Travel Authority is also free of any charge, he added.

“We have implemented measures to ease the burden of securing a Travel Authority, and our kababayan should understand that we still have to exercise control of the movement of people because this is essentially the rationale behind the implementation of quarantine protocols in the country.

Otherwise, all the sacrifices that we made for more than 100 days now would be put to waste,” Eleazar said.