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'Strict' SAF commandos to help enforce Cebu City lockdown –Eleazar

Two companies of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) will be deployed to Cebu City to assist in the strict implementation of quarantine protocols in the area, Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar said Thursday.

Eleazar said the two SAF companies would include 150 personnel. He noted that the deployment of SAF commandos is necessary in preventing residents from leaving their residences.

"Mobility assets of SAF will also be deployed in Cebu City that include multi-purpose armored vehicles similar to what we used in the implementation of ECQ in Metro Manila,” Eleazar said in a press statement.

“We have already coordinated with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the deployment of SAF personnel and their mobility assets.”

Cebu City is under lockdown amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) implemented due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases there — 4,539 as of latest count.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier criticized the Cebuanos' compliance with the national government's measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He tasked Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to go to Cebu City to oversee the situation there.

Cimatu arrived in Cebu City on Wednesday and visited barangays that reported high number of COVID-19 cases.

Proven effective

Eleazar said the deployment of SAF has been proven effective in forcing residents of Metro Manila to stay in their houses.

"[The] SAF commandos are known to be strict in enforcing the quarantine rules which subsequently compelled hardheaded residents to stay in their houses," he said.

Eleazar also said while soldiers were already deployed to Cebu City and nearby areas, the military's Central Command, under Lieutenant General Roberto Ancan, has vowed to deploy more troops to the city.

“The CentCom is also using their air assets over Cebu City to check on observance of physical distancing,” Eleazar said.

Eleazar further said three senior officers from the Philippine National Police’s Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Visayas and PNP Directorate for Operations would be sent to Cebu City to facilitate the coordination among cops on the ground, the JTF COVID Shield and the PNP leadership.

Residents unhappy

Cebu City residents, meanwhile, lamented the lockdown imposed by authorities, saying that they were not notified in advance.

On Wednesday, some 17 individuals were arrested in the city for violation of quarantine protocols, bringing the total of violators to 836 since ECQ was re-imposed last June 16, 2020.

In a Facebook post, Mayor Edgar Labella appealed for "calm and understanding" from his constituents following the enforcement of the lockdown and the temporary suspension of quarantine passes of more or less 250,000 residents. —KBK, GMA News