Monday, November 23, 2020

APOR controversies in Central Visayas


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SOME concerned residents of Negros Oriental and Bohol have been rather upset over the perceived violations of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health protocols by a provincial lawyer and a mayor, respectively. As so-called authorized persons outside residence (APORs) the lawyer and the mayor are not only allowed to travel outside their provinces in the performance of official business, but to return to their home provinces without having to go through the 14-day quarantine, required for ordinary mortals. The reason for this of course is that the affairs of government would come to a grinding halt if officials would be subjected to lengthy quarantines every time they traveled.

But this is also the reason why APORs are frequently the source of the spread of Covid-19. With the privilege of being allowed to travel and being exempted from quarantine comes the heightened risk of becoming a source of infection.

The lawyer who traveled to Manila on urgent business for Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo became a super spreader. He went straight from the airport to his office. He infected clients, members of his family, and a number of other individuals who then infected others. Entire barangays were locked down and buildings closed for disinfection. From a VIP flying on a private plane he became Negros Oriental’s first super spreader.

More lucky was Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero: she tested negative. But her trip to Cebu with 15 companions on September 15 to attend a social event, if we are to believe a Facebook post from the event, hosted by a general from the Police Regional Office 7, angered many Boholanos. It is believed that the purpose of the trip to Cebu, which included an overnight stay, was to attend the police general’s social event.

Mayor Montero, however, explained that she went to Cebu to pick up a sea craft. The official Facebook page of the municipality of Panglao features a post from September 15 showing Montero testing a “newly delivered speedboat” in the morning of the same day. Delivered not picked up. This speedboat and a second boat which was delivered on October 13 were procured before the pandemic.

The mayor assured the public that she had self-isolated at the municipal quarantine facility when she returned from Cebu. However, in the afternoon of September 18 she spoke at the soft opening of the Modala Beach Resort. Bohol Vice Gov. Rene Relampagos and other officials who attended the event self-isolated when they learned about the mayor’s trip to Cebu.

Gov. Art Yap was forced by the public outrage to direct Police Col. Joselito Clarito, the provincial Philippine National Police director, to investigate the mayor’s trip. Weeks passed and again, public outrage forced the governor to take action. Well, Col. Clarito on October 22 finally submitted a report to Governor Yap. The police officer cleared the mayor and her entourage of any violations.

Mayor Montero and her 15 companions were all APORs, according to Colonel Clarito. They traveled to Cebu on official business. They had the proper travel authority from Lt. Amelito Melloria, the Panglao police chief, medical clearance from the municipal health officer, underwent quarantine from September 15 to 27, and were swabbed. The group, according to Colonel Clarito, informed the governor’s office of their travel but the governor did not issue a clearance.

These findings may all indicate that Mayor Montero’s trip to Cebu did not violate any health protocols. However, they also raise questions. Who are and what are the positions of the 15 “officers/employees” of the Panglao local government unit that required them to travel to Cebu with the mayor? Contrary to what is stated in Colonel Clarito’s report we know that Mayor Montero did not quarantine for the period stated. Videos from the September 18 event at Modala Beach Resort are posted online. What else is incorrect?

Mayor Nila Montero is not a political ally of Governor Yap. She is an in-law of the powerful head of a regional office of a national government agency and one can guess that such connection bestows certain privileges. However, it may also be completely irrelevant. The point here is simply that ordinary citizens are prevented from traveling to even nearby provinces due to difficult or impossible requirements. We accept this because of the threat of virus transmission. We also accept that government officials on important missions should not be subjected to the same requirements. We expect these officials to adhere to the strictest standards of precautionary measures, follow laws and regulations — lest they undermine the very same authority that they represent — and only travel for the most important and urgent of reasons. While they are holding high positions and thus are entitled to some privileges they are also public officials and accountable to the people. They should not forget that with great power comes great responsibility.



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