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Cargo workers can’t go home: “Please. We’re not sick.”

/ 03:11 PM March 25, 2020

A port in southern Luzon refused to let a group of cargo workers from setting foot in Masbate, as fear of the pandemic drove the local government to slam its door shut to anyone who came from virus-stricken Metro Manila.

At least 40 truck drivers and helpers had been asked to leave, after they arrived at the Port of Masbate carrying essential goods, like canned sardines, rice, disinfectant and even oxygen tanks.

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Only their cargoes were allowed to be unloaded at the port, but not the crew, said one driver who spoke to the Inquirer in a phone interview. He did not want to be named for fear of retaliation by authorities.

Everyone had to go back to the Port of Pio Duran, which was hours away from Masbate. They had no food, no roof over their heads, not even a rest room they could use at the port.

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It was like they already had the disease, not because a test kit confirmed it, but because were prejudged in the name of safety, as the outbreak made authorities overly cautious of any oversight that could lead to the first COVID-19 patient in Bicol.

“We have already gone past too many checkpoints, nearly 40 of them, and we were allowed to pass,” he said. Their body temperatures were checked, and no one was sick.

“But when we got here in Masbate, we weren’t allowed. They said we might be sick. They said we might be carrying the virus,” he added.

Unfortunately, this is not without any legal basis.

Under Executive Order No. 8 of the province of Masbate, the crew is not allowed to leave the ship. Only the cargoes are, after they had been disinfected at the port of entry for at least 12 hours.

No crew shall be allowed to disembark from the vessel at any point or anywhere, the order read under section 8 called “absolute non-disembarkation.”

A copy of the order is posted on the official Facebook page of the local government.

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Masbate is politically part of Luzon, and therefore also part of the enhanced community quarantine imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte to curb the spread of SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes the pneumonia-like disease COVID-19.

All of this happened despite reassurances from the national government that movement of essential cargoes like food and medicine should be unhampered. Orders from the top did not reflect the rules on the ground.

This is not the first time that the cargo workers, many of whom live in Masbate, faced rejection.

They first arrived at the Port of Pio Duran on March 17, but they were told that no ship could ferry them because of the lockdown.

On March 21, they were allowed to ride a ship to the Port of Masbate. On the same day, they were told to go back, but to leave their cargoes — all 20 trucks — behind. The Masbate EO took effect on March 23.

They then returned to the Port of Pio Duran. They stayed in their trucks for days.

The irony here was that they were so close to home, but they could not come any closer.

They had to use their own money to get food, but they fear this might run out eventually, while, transporting cargoes of food.

“No one’s giving us anything to eat [in the port of Pio Duran]. They won’t let us use the restroom. They don’t let us in the building [where passengers were supposed to wait]. What’s gonna happen to us there?” the driver said.

On March 24 late at night, they again were ferried to the Port of Masbate.

As of 1 p.m. on March 25, they were still not allowed to get off the ship. He said they were getting hungry.

“Please. We’re not sick. Why can’t we just go home?” he said.

Edited by TSB

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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