Gov. Arthur Yap has lamented why local guidelines to prevent COVID-19 appear to be treated contradicting certain national or regional policies.

For him, the local protocols, including the provincial ordinance intensifying the precautionary measures to avert the contagion spread, rather supplement the issuances of the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).

The governor and Bohol Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) on Friday agreed to have the perceived conflicts between the higher and lower guidelines resolved.

This resulted from the meeting of all the BIATF clusters called by the governor after submission by Philippine National Police (PNP) provincial commander Col. Jose Clarito of his final investigation report on the Panglao mayor “fiasco” concerning non-compliance with certain quarantine rules.

In his eight-page report, Carlito, also the head of the BIATF Law Enforcement and Public Safety Cluster, recommended the case of Mayor Leonila Montero “dropped and closed.”

The top Bohol police official invoked in his probe finding the national and regional IATF issuances to allow entry of government officials “without subjecting them to 14-day quarantine health measure.”

In Montero’s case, the “entry” refers to her return to Bohol and Panglao from her Cebu travel in mid-September.

The report cited Resolution No. 32, dated August 28, of the Regional IATF for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (MEID) which asked the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) regional director to remind all the governors and mayors in Central Visayas of the government officials’ and employees’

exemption from 14-day quarantine.

Thus, DILG-7 Dir. Leocadio Trovela issued a memoramdum on the reminder through the provincial and city DILG officers.

The memorandum was issued on September 1, about two weeks before Montero and company traveled to Cebu and back to Bohol.

Clarito further asserted in his report that only COVID-19 shield/PNP travel pass and medical certificate from a physician are needed by an authorized person outside residence (APOR) who is a public official like the mayor.

But Provincial Ordinance No. 2020-022 prohibits any person entering Bohol “without complying with the necessary documents and standard protocols set by the BIATF,” which includes a BIATF clearance or travel authority issued by the governor.

Those who have no proper documents and/or not following the BIATF standard protocols has to undergo quarantine for 14 days, the ordinance says.

In the BIATF meeting, the governor insisted that the province does not contravene the national guidelines, reiterating that it even supplements the higher protocols.

WHICH SHALL PREVAIL?

While he agreed that conflicts must be resolved, Yap asked if the IATF issuance is above the provincial ordinance, the latter being a law.

He recalled, among others, when the IATF was to unload the national capital region of stranded persons and pressured the LGUs in the country to receive the rush of returning LSIs and OFWs.

“Yes, we accepted them,” the governor said, but not without telling the IATF to also “respect our holding, quarantine capacity.”

Even if he was still in Manila, Yap called the all-cluster BIATF meeting at Capitol as Clarito also recommended in his report “to covene and harmonize the variations on the issuances from the local and national IATF.”

Yap was on zoom while many BIATF members were present physically according to the protocol-allowed capacity of the meeting venue.

The meeting was physically presided by Vice Gov. Rene Relampagos together with Provincial Administrator Kathyrin Fe Pioquinto.

Other BIATF members joined the conference virtually.

REPORT SQUEEZED

The BIATF squeezed the Clarito report recommending to drop and close the case of the Panglao mayor, who traveled to Cebu and back along with several others said to be all APORs, including Coast Guard personnel.

Clarito said their investigation only centered on the mayor, but the report which he signed also recommended to drop and close the case of Montero and “company.”

SO INCONSISTENT

Probably except for Clarito, the BIATF members observed two glaring inconsistencies in his report findings.

For one, Clarito’s report said Montero and company did undergo quarantine upon return in Panglao from September 15 to 18 at the Amanzara Resort.

But pictures then even posted on the social media disproved this finding.

In those pictures, which have files, the mayor was shown physically present on two separate occassion and in unlike places on September 18—at the coastal clean-up and an event at the Modala Moadto Beach Resort.

At the clean-up, the mayor chanced to met the governor and in the resort affair she mingled with Rep. Edgar Chatto, Board Members Frans Gelaine Garcia and Jade Bautista and other government functionaries.

Asked to comment during the BIATF meeting, Dr. Cesar Tomas Lopez of the medical cluster, and who is the task force spokesperson, said a “quarantine is a quarantine.”

He meant that someone should be staying inside where he/she is on quarantine or self-isolation within the prescribed period as a protocol.

Clarito’s report also said the mayor had formally requested in a letter to the governor, who is the BIATF chairman, for a travel authority.

This was mentioned in the Clarito report for at least four times, adding that still “no clearance was issued.”

The report even asserted that the letter was “received” by the governor’s office.

But the claim was refuted during the meeting by a signed governor’s office certification that no such formal request was ever received.

It turned out that there was a mayor’s letter addressed to the governor dated September 11.

However, it must have been “made” to be delivered to the local DILG and not to the right addressee, who is the governor.

The mayor’s letter showed it was received by the local DILG on the same day based on the acknowledgment receipt stamped on its lower part.

Clarito’s report did not mention this fact.

After September 11, there were still two days—September 12 and 13—to secure the travel authority from the BIATF/governor because the mayor and company traveled from Panglao to Cebu only on September 14.

Further, Clarito said only COVID-19 shield or PNP travel pass and medical clearance are needed for the travel of an APOR like the mayor.

He said the medical clearance from a physician is required “for” the PNP pass to be issued.

But it was exposed, too, in the meeting that the medical clearance was secured only after the issuance of the PNP pass based on their separate dates.

NOT ADOPTED

The Clarito report recommending to drop and close the Montero case was not adopted by the governor-led BIATF.

There was not even a motion to this effect.

Instead, on recommendation of Dr Kazan Baluyot, the many points raised and discussed, including legal implications, were referred to the Provincial Legal Office ((PLO).

The PLO will have to act on these and make recommendations which will be taken by the concerned offices/agencies, according to the vice governor who led the meeting physically on behalf of the governor.

It was the governor himself who instructed the PNP provincial commander and task group law enforcement and public safety head to investigate the Panglao mayor’s case.

Provincial Legal Officer Nilo Ahat recommended that other matters coming out during the deliberation of the report—especially those that need to be part of the Clarito fact-finding but were not considered—-be acted accordingly by the PNP chief and his team.

PROBE MUST ADHERE TO THE MANDATE

The governor made this clear in the meeting: Clarito’s task group under the BIATF structure is tasked, among others,

“to act on all complaints and reports of violations of COVID-19-related laws and issuances, initiate or cause the investigation and prosecution of criminal actions against any person, whether public official and employee or private individual and entity, violating the laws, EOs, rules and regulations providing for the health protocols and all other measures enacted to combat COVID-19.”

“The expected output of the PNP investigation must adhere to this mandate,” the governor said.

PNP CHIEF SAYS GOVERNOR NO BIAS

While presenting his third and final report to the BIATF, Carlito said, “I understand the governor wants no bias,” referring to Yap’s instruction to investigate thoroughly and fairly

TWO EARLIER REPORTS REJECTED

The governor rejected the first investigation report submitted by Clarito as it was the “endorsed work of the Panglao police chief, not a product of an investigation personally conducted by the head of the BIATF Security Cluster.”

The second report was again rejected “because it contained a finding of facts and discussions of IATF national and regional issuances, but there was no recommendation of what actions to take.”

The third and final report was officially received and the BIATF convened to be enlightened on what Clarito termed as “variations” in the issuances from the local and national IATF.

“If there are indeed conflicts between our local laws and the National IATF Issuances, we must know and be given a chance to correct them, if indeed true,” Yap said in the opening of the BIATF plenary meeting.

But the governor already expected and “sure” that, “along the way,” the PNP chief “will use the case of Mayor Montero, to demonstrate to us these ‘variations’ or ‘conflicts of laws’ and to explain his recommendation that the case against mayor and company be ‘dropped and closed.'”

YAP DID ACT

Many have called for his “aggressive action” on the matter and “castigated my silence in the last month,” Yap said.

He asked, “To these people, I ask: Did I not act on the matter? Did I not refer the matter to the PNP to investigate and act on it? Or do they mean that I should act even without the proper investigation having been conducted thoroughly, legally and fairly?”

“If people want me to act on the basis of FB pictures and media releases, then I will not do so,” the governor said.

‘DON’T MISTAKE MY SILENCE’

As soon as he announced the submission of the third PNP report and before the BIATF meeting, the governor asked everybody not to mistake his silence for his position on any issue.

While a probe is on, it is his duty to stay silent for due process to be observed by all, he said.

Yap reminded “all the Bol-anons that as governor of Bohol, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the Philippines. In our Constitution is enshrined the command that no Filipino can be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

“We have the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. This is the reason why I have remained silent. I wanted to allow due process to take its course,” the governor said.

Due process is defined as the requirement that legal matters be resolved according to established rules and principles and that individuals be treated fairly.

The governor said it is “my duty and obligation to make sure that this right is afforded to every Boholano.”

He appealed to “spare each other from grandstanding, accusations, big words and legal maxims that only a few people understand.”

“We can agree to disagree, but let us speak plainly, respectfully, and simply to each other. What is important is that the truth comes out and our laws are harmonized and respected,” the governor said.

Yap believed that “if we can allow the truth to come out and ensure that our laws are respected by every Bol-anon, then our people’s faith in our system of government is secure.”

Despite the questions cracking the credibility of the Clarito report which wants the mayor’s case dropped and closed, the governor praised the Bohol PNP organization for its “vigilance and aggressivess,” especially in helping contain the COVID-19 spread on the islands.

EASIEST WAY OUT

Clarito’s report “cleared” the mayor and company of any violations to the national and regional guidelines.

Under Section 8 of Provincial Ordinance 2020-022, it is prohibited to enter Bohol shores without complying with the necessary documents and standard protocols set by the BIATF like travel authority/clearance.

For failure to observe the above, Section 9 says a violator “shall undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine together with all the persons who are in direct contact with him/her upon arrival.”

“After completing the quarantine, he/shall pay an administrative fine of P5,000,” the ordinance says.

If not, the provincial law continues, the offender “shall be charged in court.”

Some who observed the presentation of the PNP finding said had Clarito not found Montero “innocent,” he could just have recommended to fine the mayor P5,000 and the issue is instantly dropped and closed. (Ven rebo Arigo)