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LTFRB Deploys ‘Mystery Passengers’ In Public Transport

LTFRB Deploys ‘Mystery Passengers’ In Public Transport
Passengers of a bus plying A. Bonifacio Avenue in Quezon City show their COVID-19 vaccination cards during an inspection conducted by the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic on Jan. 14, 2022. Photo by Russel Palma, The Philippine STAR

“Mystery passengers” will be deployed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on public utility vehicles (PUVs) starting Monday, Jan 17, to help monitor the implementation of the “no vaccination, no ride” policy in Metro Manila.

Under the policy signed by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade last Jan. 11, public transportation access within Metro Manila will be limited to the vaccinated population during Alert Level 3 or higher.

“Why do we need to deploy them (mystery passengers)? This is to ensure that even if there is no uniformed enforcer, drivers are complying with this policy,” DOTr Assistant Secretary for road transport and infrastructure Mark Steven Pastor said in a virtual briefing on Friday, Jan. 14.

“This is also for us to see how we could implement this program on a daily basis without them knowing that there is a government enforcer in their public utility vehicles,” he said.

The DOTr is implementing the policy with other agencies such as the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Philippine National Police.

Their personnel are deployed to ensure that operators of public transportation will allow access or issue tickets only to fully vaccinated persons as evidenced by a physical or digital copy of an LGU-issued vaccine card, or any IATF-prescribed document, with a valid government-issued ID with picture and address.

Persons with medical conditions that prevent their full COVID-19 vaccination as shown by a duly-signed medical certificate with the name and contact details of their doctor are exempted from the no vaccination, no ride policy.

Also exempted are those who will buy essential goods and services, such as food, water, medicine, medical devices, public utilities, energy, work, and medical and dental necessities, as shown by a duly issued barangay health pass or other proof to justify travel.

Transport marshals will randomly check PUVs as to their compliance with the policy and be deployed at major terminals and strategic locations.

Acknowledging that enforcers cannot be everywhere all the time, Pastor said: “That is why it is very important that there have been dialogues with our operators and that almost all of them are in full support of this policy because we are not only protecting the passengers, we are protecting the transport system itself, including our drivers.”

The DOTr said NCR and provincial bus operators plying the Metro Manila route, along with a union of jeepney, UV Express and tricycle operators in the capital region, have expressed support and compliance to the policy.

For his part, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Chairman Martin Delgra III said: “Our call to everyone is just to comply with this properly because this is for the good of everyone.”

Airlines back DOTr policy

Local airlines have expressed support for the DOTr policy, with flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) stating its strong backing for initiatives to promote safe travel during the ongoing Omicron surge.

“We laud the DOTr’s initiative to help the Filipino public embark on essential travels during the current crisis,” PAL president and COO Gilbert Santa Maria said.

Santa Maria assured the public that the carrier would do its part to uphold the strictest safety standards and health protocols in its continuing operation of domestic and international flight network.

PAL operates a network of regular flights from its Manila and Cebu hubs to key cities around the Philippines and internationally to destinations in Asia, North America, Australia and the Middle East.

“We are one with the DOTr and the Philippine air transport sector in working to sustain vital air services throughout the country, facilitating the delivery of urgent goods including life-saving vaccines, and helping our OFWs and overseas Filipinos fly to their home provinces,” PAL Express president Bonifacio Sam said.

Low-cost carrier AirAsia Philippines, for its part, said it would abide by and implement the department order.

AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricky Isla said the company considers the DOTr’s initiative as an effective tool to encourage every Filipino to take the shot and get an added layer of protection against any emerging COVID-19 variant.

The airline said non-vaccinated guests with essential purpose of travel from Metro Manila such as persons with medical conditions that prevent full COVID-19 vaccination would still be allowed to fly, provided that they present a duly signed medical certificate with name and contact details of their physician.

Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and customer experience Candice Iyog also gave assurance on the airline’s compliance to the DOTr order.

Iyog said the airline would screen, validate and board only passengers traveling into and out of the NCR who are fully vaccinated.

To help ease the new challenges, Cebu Pacific is offering flexible options until Jan. 31 to passengers who cannot travel given the government order.

It said passengers who wish to voluntarily postpone their travel plans may conveniently cancel up to two hours before their scheduled time of departure, and choose to either rebook or store the amount in a travel fund.

Stating another perspective, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines chief of staff Danjun Lucas said the aviation sector believes that the DOTr policy would help address the lack of manpower currently being faced by airlines.

671 rail personnel COVID-positive

Meanwhile, a total of 671 railway personnel have tested positive for COVID-19, the DOTr revealed Friday, Jan. 14.

DOTr Undersecretary for railways Timothy John Batan said these COVID-19 cases represent 26 percent of those who were subjected to RT-PCR testing after turning up positive in the initial antigen tests conducted from Jan. 3 to Jan. 13.

Antigen testing with a confirmatory RT-PCR test for those who tested positive was one of the measures undertaken by the department for all personnel of railway lines – the Light Rail Transit 1, LRT-2, Metro Rail Transit 3 and the Philippine National Railways.

With Alert Level 3 raised in Metro Manila, the DOTr also conducted random antigen testing of consenting and volunteering passengers of railway lines.

Batan said a total of 631 passengers have undergone antigen testing from Jan. 11 to Jan. 13, of whom 78 turned out positive.

Daily ridership on the four railway lines is down to 300,786 passengers from 405,903 last December.

Starting Monday, Jan. 17, the railways sector will also implement the no vaccine, no ride policy, said Batan.

The Light Rail Manila Corp., private operator of LRT-1, said it would provide free random COVID-19 antigen swab tests to passengers who will give their consent or volunteer for testing on Jan. 15 and Jan. 17 at the EDSA, Baclaran, Monumento and Carriedo stations.

Those passengers who will test positive will not be allowed to ride the train, and be assisted in coordinating with their respective local government units (LGUs).

Barangay to monitor unvaxxed

On the barangay level, village officers will conduct a house-to-house inventory of all unvaccinated and vaccinated residents to strictly monitor the movement of individuals required to stay indoors.

“They will now be monitored for purposes of whether or not they will go out of their residence for purposes of procuring essential goods and services or if they will just go out for non-essential purposes,” Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

The names and other information of unvaccinated individuals will be collated by barangay officials for their inventory in accordance with the memorandum circular issued by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Densing said.

He warned that unvaccinated people caught in public places will be asked to go home but those who refuse risk being arrested.

“They will be arrested not because they are unvaccinated but because they did not follow the instructions or directives of a person in authority,” said the DILG official.

Densing defended the government’s hardline stance as a move to protect the majority of the population during a national public health emergency. 

DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya, meanwhile, rejected ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro’s description of the DILG order to have a barangay inventory of the vaccination status of residents as a “witch-hunt.”

Malaya said Castro’s statement was “completely irresponsible and uncalled for.”

He also assured the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that the inventory will not be published or released to the public and will only serve as a reference for barangays in the implementation of ordinances with no intention of violating any person’s right to privacy. 

The CHR earlier reminded the government to ensure the protection of rights of unvaccinated individuals, including their right to privacy.

“With the recent directive of the Department of the Interior and Local Government for barangays to submit a list of unvaccinated individuals in their communities, we hope that this does not result in the breach of the right to privacy of individuals and, more importantly, not restrict the unvaccinated from accessing essential good and services,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia.

“We cannot use the present pandemic as a justification to set aside pertinent laws and human rights standards meant to protect human rights and dignity in all situations and at all times,” she added. – With Emmanuel Tupas