TOBOSO, Negros Occidental, Philippines – This sleepy town now under lockdown against the COVID19 disease has turned sleepier.
About 120 kilometers north of the urban capital of Bacolod City, people here have started to stay in their homes after their new mayor, Richard Jaojoco, had ordered what he describes as a “hybrid” state of alert that will be “experimental” in its first week and might be scaled down on the second week if signs improve.
Once a backwater town where rebels and soldiers engage in occasional combat, the drone of tricycles and the hum of economic activity in the public market have been replaced by an eerie silence and the lapping of waves of the Visayan Sea.
Inside the municipal gym, Mayor Jaojoco holds court.
Atop the stage usually reserved for beauty pageants and town gatherings, Jaojoco meets with police officers in combat fatigues, health, and social workers to map out plans how to feed the more than 12,000 families, mostly sugarcane workers and meager earners who are hard hit by the lockdown, coming as it is in the middle of the milling season when money is supposed to circulate faster.
Most of all, they discuss tactics how to contain the disease.
Jaojoco’s formula is a cross between an Extreme Enhanced Community Quarantine and the enhanced one.
The purpose, he said, is to identify infection within the town first and, once pinpointed, they will proceed to addressing it before they do tighter border controls to seal the town from infection.
Humans, he said, are the vehicles of the virus, their movement the key to its spread.
Deny them that moving platforms and you can control the spread, he said. Like what soldiers do: denying ground to the enemy.
“It is experimental,” he said. If the signs improve on the first week, meaning if the number of persons under investigation or monitoring go down, Jaojoco said he might consider scaling down to only an enhanced level.
But that remains a big if now.
With an annual budget of only P120 million, Jaojoco’s first challenge is how to feed more than 40,000 residents who are not even allowed to go out and buy food, a key feature of the lockdown.
The town had already started to distribute food packs for the first week, each containing 10 kilos of rice and five canned sardines.
Village chiefs also gave additional food packs, except for the head of the poblacion barangay. “I am calling him out and I will also look into how he is using his budget,” Jaojoco said, as he pointed out that the village has the highest revenue allotment among the 18 barangays here./with Banjo C. Hinolan, and Rodney A. Jarder Jr.