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Rough Cuts | Even in COVID-19 Tawi-tawi is forgotten

The decision by President Rodrigo R. Duterte that was most awaited by the Filipino people late last week was on which option he was to take in regards to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that the government is imposing in the efforts to contain the spread of the corona virus disease (CoViD 19) pandemic.

And as expected he adopted the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on CoViD 19 recommendation to extend until May 15, 2020, the ECQ in certain provinces, and modified in other areas. The determination of which regions or provinces are to be included in the ECQ extension and/or modification was based on the level of gravity of CoViD incidence.

When the President’s decision was out and the names of the regions and provinces where the ECQ is to be extended further, we were not surprised to learn that the Metro Manila areas and its contiguous regions were included. And we were not surprised either that the cities of Cebu and Iloilo in the Central and Western Visayas, as well as Davao in Mindanao are among the provinces and cities where the ECQ extension is recommended.

Of course it was a done decision as far as the provinces earlier reported to have zero case of CoViD 19 infection. Why extend in those areas when there is absence of any one person that has the virus?

But there was something that intrigued us while trying to read the list of those provinces and cities where the ECQ is to be modified starting May 1 or this coming Friday. As in the case of provinces without any reported CoViD 19 infection, the Province of Tawi-tawi was again not listed among them.

Why, has the government forgotten that somewhere down south we still have a province we proudly claim part of the Philippine territory? Or, are our authorities would rather prefer that the country’s southernmost province just fend for itself at this time when the world is held hostage by the deadly virus?

The fate of Tawi-tawi seems worse than its northernmost counterpart – the Province of Batanes. Though not often given much attention by the government, its status as a tourist destination has allowed its name to continuously pop up in the consciousness of the authorities. And on an almost daily basis Batanes is mentioned in the introduction spiel of the country’s leading television show. What with the line “Mula Batanes hanggang Sulu.” And the President, if our memory serves us right, has visited Batanes once. That was after it was hit by a devastating earthquake.

Sadly for Tawi-tawi, it has not been listed as one among the zero CoViD 19 provinces. And again the province is not mentioned in the list of areas where the ECQ is to be modified.

With the seeming exclusion of the province from both lists we could not blame if some people, especially from that province, would entertain the idea that the central government in Manila is not considering their place as part of the Philippines.

Yes, the neighboring Provinces of Sulu and Palawan are much luckier. First, these are included in the lists of areas where the ECQ is modified and its restrictions are to be relaxed. And both were also reported to have been allocated fund assistance from the national government to help the people affected by the CoViD pandemic cope with the hard times.

But for Tawi-tawi, the case is totally different to the point that it seems the province is neglected – or even forgotten.

Its situation reminds us of a column we wrote after President Duterte was elected to office in the Presidential elections in May 2016. In that column of ours we expressed our hope that he includes in the list of provinces he would first visit Tawi-tawi and Sulu. And as we already knew, the President has made a few trips to Sulu. But he has still to make a visit to one of the provinces of his native Mindanao.

And as far as that line in the television program introduction that could have helped instill in the minds of our government leaders that there is still one province out there in the far south, we are still waiting for its revision. It is our wish that with the line changed from “Mula Batanes hanggang Sulu” to “Mula Batanes hanggang Tawi-tawi” the people in that province can feel some iota of belonging, instead of castaways.

Or, are our leaders waiting that some residents of the province do things in a rather notorious manner to remind those concerned that there are still thousands of Filipinos out there waiting for their rightful share of attention, recognition and support?

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