Calls mount to retract Baguio border restrictions

BAGUIO CITY — Calls are mounting to revoke border restrictions ordered by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong for residents from its bordering Benguet towns, with appeals from La Trinidad, the Benguet legislative caretaker, and activist group Tongtongan ti Umili (People’s Caucus).

The La Trinidad Municipal COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (MIATF) met on the afternoon of November 20 to discuss Magalong’s executive order released the day before. Underscoring the “spirit of unity and cooperation embodied in the BLISTT ideals,” they unanimously approved a resolution asking the mayor to recall his order.

BLISTT stands for Baguio, and the bordering towns of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay. The LGUs set up a governing board in January 2014 to promote development through cooperation, coordination, and collaboration among the member LGUs.

Magalong’s directive limited the entry of residents from LSTT towns to those working, having medical emergencies, and needing essential goods and services. The city requires residents from the said municipalities to carry proof of work, residency, and a medical certificate. The order takes effect from November 21 up to December 4.

Despite the city’s claims of prior consultation with Benguet officials and the Regional IATF, the municipal officials expressed “surprise and apprehension” over the city’s restriction advisory. La Trinidad Mayor Romeo Salda also clarified they were not consulted before Magalong’s issuance of the restriction.

In a separate statement, ACT-CIS Party-list Representative Eric Yap also appealed for the lifting of the restriction.

The solon reminded Baguio that Benguet LGUs did not impose restrictions when the city allowed tourists’ entry from other regions.

“I would like to appeal to you to recall the advisory that restricts travel from Benguet to Baguio. Allow me to point out though that I am in no way against stricter measures to contain the virus,” he said.

Yap added that it would be better to further discuss the matter and find an amenable solution for all parties.

Itogon officials also called out Baguio back in October after the city imposed similar restrictions, leading the city to ease the guidelines.

Restriction hampers livelihood

In a statement, Tongtongan ti Umili said the latest checks imposed by Magalong would hamper the livelihood of residents from its neighboring towns, especially those seeking odd jobs in the city. They noted that there are sections that continue to face difficulties finding home-based work and procuring the required documents to pass the border.

The group pointed out that Baguio’s has a thriving economy because of the participation of LISTT citizens.

“[The] concept of a Metropolitan Baguio or BLISTT was formulated to foster further cooperation and unity with its neighboring municipalities for a development that serves the needs of not just Baguio, but also those of its adjacent towns,” the group said.

Magalong’s decision drew opposition from all fronts. Residents from the four towns and even Baguio locals expressed dissent on social media, flooding the city’s Facebook public information page with mocking and angry comments. Memes depicting Baguio with barriers to keep its neighbors out and a separate area from Benguet also became abundant on social media.

BLISTT-wide policy

Tongtongan views the city’s latest measure as something selfish, noting that “it is more focused on reviving itself, rather than holistically stimulating the revitalization of its economy” of the whole BLISTT.

“In this pandemic, there can be no actual development for Baguio if its neighboring towns are left in the dark in the conversation,” the group added.

Instead of restricting its neighbors, Tongtongan said city officials should instead formulate policies with its bordering municipalities.

“In order to heal as one, let us not isolate ourselves from our [neighbors], but instead coordinate with them to formulate policies that will serve the [people] better,” the statement said.

The group urged the city government to consult LISTT mayors and other concerned sectors before issuing directives that will affect its neighbors. They also recommended creating a “common COVID-19 management and testing strategy” and a “BLISTT-wide regulation” for the entry and exit of persons in the area.

The group stressed that, as an urban center, Baguio should accommodate all sectors.

“We are not strictly just for tourists and conventions,” the group said.

Mayors consulted

In a statement relayed by the Public Information Office (PIO), City Administrator Bonifacio dela Peña explained Baguio has to impose the checks while the towns improve their containment measures for COVID-19. The official maintained that dialogues were undertaken before the mayor decided to set stricter border control.

According to the city’s PIO, the city administrator represented Magalong in a meeting on November 19 with LISTT officials. The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) Regional Director Albert Mogol and Interior and Local Government Regional Director Marlo Iringan facilitated the talks. Apparently, this was the third COVID-19 engagement initiated by Baguio with its counterparts from its adjacent towns.

According to him, the bordering towns still lack a control system, noting their low testing rate, limited isolation facilities, and inadequate lockdown imposition. The measure is supposed to drive local governments of the border towns to institute more steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection in their areas. ●