“What the malls and movie houses should do is not to allow those students. They should also cooperate,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
The police, meanwhile, said students found in public areas such as malls while classes are suspended would not be arrested but merely encouraged to go home and stay there.
“We will not be arresting them, but just like their big brothers, we are only looking after their health and welfare,” said PNP spokesman Maj. Gen. Benigno Durana.
Following the suspension of classes until March 14, the Department of the Interior and Local Government directed all Metro Manila mayors and the Philippine National Police to keep all students away from malls, movie houses, public markets and other crowded places to stop and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the communities.
“The President has directed all local officials in NCR from mayor down to punong barangays as well as all units of the Philippine National Police to ensure that no children are seen loitering around and, if they are seen, they are to be immediately sent home to do their homework,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año.
He sought the cooperation of all parents to discipline and closely supervise their children and ensure that they stay home and do their homework.
“In the Task Force Meeting last night in Malacañang, the DepEd said that they will give home assignments or performance tasks to all students so that they will have something productive to do during this period,” he said.
He said if the students were allowed by their parents and by the government to go to public places, it would defeat the very purpose of the class suspension, which is preemptive social distancing to slow down the spread of the virus.
“Our police officers and the barangay officials will serve as truant officers to ensure that kids stay at home. I have also directed all our Metro Manila Mayors to personally direct their respective chiefs of police to implement the presidential directive so that local governments and the police will jointly implement this policy of the government,” he said.
The DILG chief also directed all Metro Manila LGUs to suspend or postpone all mass gatherings in the meantime as another preemptive social distancing measure. “I cannot overemphasize the role of the punong barangays in NCR. They have to be pro-active in their respective barangays,” he said.
“We have no choice but to undertake these measures because public health demands it. Together with sustained hygiene [like regular handwashing, coughing etiquette, thermoscans and face masks], suspensions of classes and mass gathering will enable us to defeat this virus faster,” he said.
He also said that the DILG and the LGUs will strictly enforce the home quarantine measures for those suspected of having contracted the virus.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said no rights would be violated if police prevent students from loitering in crowded places such as shopping malls.
“In this state of public health emergency, certain personal or individual freedoms, like the freedom to travel or just even move around, may have to give way to societal interest or the common good,” he said, in a text message.
“The DILG has directed the PNP to act as truancy officers; nothing wrong with that,” he added.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, said a four-day workweek for government workers and flexi-work arrangements are among the options being considered by the government to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to stave off the loss of jobs as a result of the outbreak.
Nograles, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease, said the suspension of classes in NCR could be extended or lifted based on developments this week.
The Palace official added that as far as employees in the private sector are concerned, “the Department of Labor and Employment just recently issued a labor advisory that regulates flexi-work arrangements.”
The point of the advisory, explained Nograles, is “to discourage businesses from laying off and retrenching workers and adopting a flexi-work arrangement instead.”
This particularly applies to the tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the outbreak.
Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said telecommuting work arrangements would keep workers safe from COVID-19.
While the rising threats to public health triggering a slowdown in the economy, Villanueva said companies can mitigate the impact of the outbreak if parts of their operations continue by implementing telecommuting in their respective organizations.
“Telecommuting allows organizations to maintain a level of productivity as we wait out for diseases like COVID-19 to taper off. The last thing we want to happen is that we become paralyzed with fear of the disease,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment, and human resources development.
He credited several companies who have announced the implementation of work-from-home schemes in their organizations as a response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“We can all do our share in protecting our workers from the disease by minimizing their risk of getting infected. The least we can do now is to avoid public places such as public transportation terminals where social distancing can be tough to practice,” Villanueva said.
The lawmaker called on the Department of Labor and Employment to continue its effort to encourage companies to implement telecommuting work arrangements.
Republic Act. No. 11165 or the Telecommuting Act encourages the private sector to adopt a telecommuting work arrangement, more popularly known as “work from home.” The scheme must be based on mutually agreed-upon rules by employers and their workers.
The law reiterates that telecommuting programs should continue to uphold minimum labor standards such as workers’ health and safety, schedules and workloads, work hours, and social safety nets.
It also enshrines the protection of workers under a telecommuting arrangement, giving them the same rights such as equal pay and leave benefits, among others, as their office-based counterparts.