‘Virus is invisible’: Cebu City aerial survey triggers concerns on COVID-19 response

June 29, 2020 - 5:37 PM
Cebu City in aerial view
Aerial view showing the Sitio Alaska of Barangay Mambaling in Cebu City in this undated photo. (Photo by Jun Nagac via Philippine News Agency)

Questions on the purpose of the conduct of the aerial inspection to fight the novel coronavirus disease were raised after Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar on Saturday conducted an aerial inspection at the COVID-hit Cebu City.

Eleazar, the commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, flew in a helicopter and conducted a survey over the area which is currently under an enhanced community quarantine to reportedly assess the situation.

He also inspected the quarantine checkpoints installed in the city.

Cebu currently has the highest COVID-19 cases in terms of city level.

A video of the aerial surveillance was shared by ABS-CBN News on Twitter, which has gained more than 746,000 views and more than 8,300 retweets as of this writing.

“The city looks like a ghost town,” Eleazar was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN report as he cited the heightened police presence in the area.

Concerns on Cebu City COVID-19 response 

Eleazar’s conduct of the aerial survey earned criticisms from some Filipinos who questioned how useful it would be as a pandemic response.

“Aerial…survey? For a pandemic? This isn’t a natural calamity? The virus is invisible? Isn’t this a waste of resources? Genuinely curious. Please make it make sense…” a Twitter user wrote in response to Eleazar’s video.

Another online user reiterated the calls of the Filipinos for more medical-oriented solutions amid the state forces-backed initiative.

Another Filipino commented: “This is exactly the problem when you hire police and army officials in IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force). They are seeing this pandemic as a matter of national security instead of a public health issue. They should have hired more public health specialists, epidemiologists and doctors.”

SAF, drones, armored carriers and helicopter deployment

The deployment of Special Action Forces (SAF) in Cebu City, complete with Israeli-made multi-purpose armored personnel carriers to supposedly augment the tightened security also earned backlash from some online users.

“Paano nila titirahin ng mga yan yung kalaban eh hindi nga nakikita,” a Facebook user, who was referring to the coronavirus disease, commented with a peace finger emoji.

“GAMOT ANG KELANGAN AT PAGKAIN, HINDI BALA,” wrote another online user.

“Hindi naman terorista ang COVID. Kahit anong quarantine niyo dyan kung yan lang ang paraan niyo para makontrol ang COVID, walang kwenta yan,” another online user commented.

There were other Filipinos who remarked that such equipment should be used for defending the West Philippine Sea from China instead.

RELATED: A year after Recto Bank incident, no change in policy in West Philippine Sea — Diokno

“Kung makabantay sa COVID sana ganyan din sa West Philippine Sea ano?” wrote a Twitter user.

Eleazar said that the deployment of SAF troopers was not meant to “bully” the locals but eyed to strictly enforce quarantine protocols to “hardheaded people” who fail to follow the health and safety measures.

“This is the reason why the deployment of SAF and soldiers is necessary, for these hardheaded people to be forced to comply with the presence of uniformed personnel and their mobility assets,” he reasoned.

“Your SAF and soldiers may be the toughest, but they are also human beings who have compassion for those who deserve it. They are known to strictly follow orders and among their orders is to exercise maximum tolerance,” Eleazar added.

Aside from armored personnel carriers, helicopters were also reportedly deployed by the military.

Last Wednesday, Inquirer Visayas reported that Police Colonel Cydric Earl Tamayo, officer-in-charge of Cebu City Police Office, on Wednesday explained that “the helicopters are being used to drop leaflets with government reminders on COVID-19 protocols and for aerial surveillance of areas in the city.”

The joint task force shield also deployed drones to monitor areas where quarantine violations supposedly persist.

“The purpose of drone deployment is that if ECQ violations are observed in a particular area, troops will be immediately sent there to enforce the quarantine rules,” Eleazar reportedly said in a statement Sunday.

Medical-oriented solutions for COVID-19 pushed anew

Calls for more medical-oriented solutions for the health crisis have resurfaced since Cebu City was reverted to ECQ due to continued COVID-19 cases surge.

Some of these include empowering the health sector through the conduct of mass testing, expansion of health facilities, boost of information drives about the disease prevention and increase of funding for COVID-19 related research works.

When Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that he would increase the police personnel in Cebu City, some Filipinos urged him to focus on health-related initiatives instead, including a medical student and a physician.

Similar responses were made when President Rodrigo Duterte assigned Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a former military general, to oversee the COVID-19 response in Cebu City.

RELATED: Why Cimatu’s appointment as Cebu City’s COVID-19 response chief was questioned online

More doctors 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Sunday issued a directive to delegate more doctors in the virus-stricken city, including doctors to the barrio, following reports that its healthcare system has reached “critical point.”

The doctors, who are rural health physicians, would not be permanently stationed in Cebu City but would only be tasked to provide critical relief so that municipal health units would not be left “doctorless.”

Among those who were assigned were healthcare workers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which include military doctors, nurses and medical aides.

Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the National Task Force on COVID-19, said that other provinces in the Western Visayas would also send doctors to Cebu City on Monday.