The Philippine Stock Exchange suspended trading Tuesday, making the Philippines the first country to close its financial market over novel coronavirus (COVID-19) fears.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered most of the 55 million people on the main island of Luzon to stay at home for the next month after social distancing measures failed to keep people away from one another.
Philippine Stock Exchange president Ramon Monzon told traders in a memo that trading is suspended starting Tuesday “until further notice” to move in step with Duterte’s order.
Monzon said the suspension was also “to ensure the safety of employees and traders in light of the escalating cases of the coronavirus disease.”
Confirmed cases in the Philippines have jumped to 142, with 12 deaths and the government has unveiled a P27.1-billion package to fund hospitals fighting the virus and provide reprieve amid a slowdown in economic activity.
The benchmark PSE index plunged 7.9 percent during shortened trading on Monday as investors reeled from the virus’ economic impact.
The suspension order came as stock markets and oil prices went into freefall after central banks’ fresh stimulus measures failed to dampen fears of the global pandemic.
Shares in Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index dropped by as much as 3.66 percent at Tuesday’s open before recovering about 70 minutes after the opening bell.
Overnight, Wall Street indices fell in their worst day since 1987, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq dropping about 12 percent and the Dow sinking nearly 13 percent.
On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission also closed its main office in Pasay City and its extension offices and satellite offices in Luzon.
The commission said it would implement work-from-home arrangements for its employees.
To help companies affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, the SEC said it has extended the filing period for annual reports and financial statements, allowed companies to submit their reports through courier and enabled the participation of directors, trustees, stockholders, members and other persons in meetings through remote communication.
Meanwhile, the Justice department said COVID-19 patients who refuse hospital confinement or who try to escape may be held criminally liable.
“Being sick does not exempt one from criminal liability,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
Guevarra was reacting to reports that three confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients allegedly tried to evade hospital admission and mandatory quarantine.
“These people may be charged for non-cooperation under the relevant provisions of the law on mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and the quarantine law,” Guevarra said.
He said violating Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code covering resistance and disobedience to a person in authority and violation or evasion of quarantine, could result in prison time and a fine of up to P100,000.
A few days ago it was reported that a woman who tested positive for COVID-19 tried to escape members of the police in San Juan City by boarding her car. She was chased until she reportedly reached the parking lot of a hospital in Quezon City.
She finally agreed to have herself admitted after a two-hour negotiation with the police.
Two patients under investigation, meanwhile, left Sarangani province and proceeded to Davao to catch a flight to Manila. The police were reportedly able to track them down to a hotel in Davao on March 13.
Earlier, Guevarra said people who disobeyed the terms of the enhanced community quarantine could also be arrested and penalized. With Willie Casas
“Considering the gravity of the situation, our police and law enforcement agents may effect arrest under various laws,” Guevarra said, referring again to Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code.
Police and military units will continue manning the various checkpoints set up to enforce the government’s ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines will man checkpoints with the Philippine National Police.
He said the soldiers would play a supporting role because they do not have police powers.
The Palace on Tuesday said military trucks will be mobilized to transport health workers and frontliners after the government suspended public mass transportation and some of these workers had to walk to work.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo observed that due to lack of public transportation, workers who were still required to report for work were forced to walk while others who were stranded decided to return home.
Panelo said the Palace has requested the AFP to use army trucks to ferry stranded workers, especially health professionals.
Meanwhile, the Metro Manila Development Authority said it has coordinated with bus companies to send out buses that carry the official logo of the MMDA to offer free rides to those exempted from home quarantine.
Thousands of commuters in Metro Manila were stranded Tuesday with some having to wait for several hours because of limited public transportation caused by the community quarantine.
Employees coming from the province and who work in Metro Manila have to present their IDs to gain entry into the quarantined National Capital Region.
This caused long queues of people waiting for verification and thermal scanning.
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the government is considering providing shuttle services for frontliners battling the COVID-19 outbreak.
“ We are fixing the system so that they could have a shuttle service,” Malaya said.
He urged local government units across Luzon to help ferry their health workers to hospitals.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, on the other hand, appealed to the government to lift the suspension of public transporation, saying tousands of minimum daily wage workers could not bet to work.
TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said that while they fully support the government’s effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the enhanced community quarantine would cause massive job losses because of lack of clear guidelines to protect the workers, not just from the deadly virus, but from losing their jobs.
The TUCP also suggested that only workers be allowed to take public utility vehicles by presenting their company IDs.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said the suspension of mass transportation would mean health workers would be unable to get to work.
“We have received many complaints. There are no nurses in many hospitals. Some hospitals even stopped their operations due to the failure of health workers to report to work since they do not have their own vehicles,” he said.
“Many were stranded on the road—workers in markets, groceries, drugstores, gas stations, government offices and other vital establishments,” he said.
“If there are no health workers, who will take care of the sick?” Pangilinan said.
Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they have already talked to the Department of Transportation, the MMDA and private groups to help transport health workers.
She said bus companies handling point-to-point services are also being contacted for the same reason.
While medical and non-medical hospital workers are exempted from the travel restrictions under the enhanced community quarantine, Vergeire admitted that getting to work remains a challenge.
In the Senate, Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the Transporation Department to deploy vehicles to transport health workers to and from health facilities.
“It is essential that vehicles are provided to ferry our health workers from their localities to their respective health facilities,” she said.
The Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group on Tuesday flagged down some 600 taxis on EDSA for defying the temporary suspension of public transportation in the entire of Luzon.
This came after PNP chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa ordered the apprehension of the public utility vehicles (PUV) that continue to operate.
Highway Patrol Group director, Brig. Gen. Eliseo Cruz, said the ban on PUVs is not only in Metro Manila but in the entire Luzon island.
Cruz said they will get the name of the taxi and operator and take photos of their drivers’ licenses, plate number, and car registration, which will be submitted to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for appropriate action.
In the meantime, the drivers were given a warning and were allowed to go home.
In a press conference in Malacañang on Monday night, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the suspension would include all forms of mass transportation such as public utility buses, jeeps, taxis, and transport network vehicle services.
Aside from the ban on public transportation, land, air, and sea travel will also be restricted while the movement of cargoes over the entire Luzon would continue unhampered.
Under the memorandum, signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, enhanced community quarantine means that the public will have to remain indoors unless they need to access basic necessities.
Also on Tuesday, a coalition of transport network vehicle services operators and drivers, Laban TNVS, asked the managementof the ride-hailing service Grab Philippines for emerency financial assistance.
Laban TNVS said, in a statement, that as the government prohibited the operations of TNVS and other mode of public transportation, Grab must show compassion and support to its partners who temporarily lost their livelihoods due to the lockdown.
Laban TNVS urged Grab to provide P1,000 daily or P24,000 monthly emergency financial aid to its 38,000 active partner drivers and operators.
The assistance should not come in the form of cash loans, they said.
“As we contributed so much for the company through fare commissions for the longest time now, we see it just and right for Grab Philippines to extend its arms and help us in this time of crisis, as its contribution for us to have income for the daily needs of our families,” said Jun de Leon, Laban TNVS president. With Willie Casas