In support of the Higalaay ordinance

OPINION
By SUSAN PALMES-DENNIS
April 19, 2021

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Charlotte, North Carolina—It’s already been more than a week since the 19th City Council of Cagayan de Oro City passed a resolution calling for a one month dry run extension on City Hall’s enforcement of the QR (quick response) code requirement among city residents,  visitors, private and public offices in the city.

And there are still complaints being aired in every available social and local mainstream outlet out there.  It’s not surprising even if as per latest word from City Hall that there are over 600,000 city residents who have secured their QR code from the Higalaay web portal which is integrated into City Hall’s official website.

Before I give my opinion on the whole issue at least in this post—I already did in my past two ´Barangay S´ Facebook broadcasts this past week (April 12-16 please check my FB page)—please allow me to present the basic facts. The complaints are mostly coming from late registrants who complain about the difficulty of registering online despite an official City Hall explanation that its servers are overwhelmed with the surge of applications reportedly submitted after office hours.  What also drew attention was a position paper by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation Inc. (Oro Chamber) asking the council to review the Higalaay app ordinance which they said was ‘redundant’ and ‘punitive.’ 

The Oro Chamber of course referred to an Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) resolution mandating all local governments to adopt the Stay Safe app as a contact tracing tool for suspected COVID-19 cases. Based on this resolution, they said this would make the QR code requirement under the Higalaay app ordinance redundant.  What they didn’t know if they were told at all was that the Higalaay app ordinance was approved even before the IATF resolution took effect and I’ll talk more about that. 

But what I thought took the cake as far as opposition to the QR code requirement is concerned is a claim and warning by this radio announcer that the Higalaay app/web portal can be used to tamper a person or company’s bank accounts.  The announcer further fueled his allegation by saying that City Hall’s servers can be hacked anytime, allowing the perpetrators to fool the registrants into giving up the passwords to their bank accounts.

That claim drew a strong reaction from Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno who described the radio announcer’s claim as both ‘bugok (idiotic, stupid)’ and ‘kinaplo (irresponsible).’  At this point, I’ll stop mentioning this radio announcer to avoid giving anymore unwarranted publicity.  Let me say at the outset that I do understand the rationale behind the QR code/Higalaay app mandate and the Oro Chamber’s concerns over its enforcement.

Though I do understand the complaints about the difficulty in applying for the QR code online—never mind the fact that the Higalaay app had been promoted since its inception in August last year, right before the city fiesta and that those applying for the code are latecomers who epitomize the Pinoy’s unlamented habit for last minute rush work—still it´s not totally impossible to do as one only needs to time their registration during slow WiFi traffic which is usually past midnight or 1 am. 

Let me say this about the most vocal or loudest critics of the Higalaay app ordinance; a lot of them are grandstanding, wannabe politicians and armchair experts whose virulent attacks on the ordinance are akin to scraping the you-know-what out of toilet bowls and flinging it straight on the faces of their targets, all in the desperate hopes of gaining cheap pre-election publicity.  

A lot of these critics are pro-lockdowners whose ´amazing´solution to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is to lock everyone up in Cagayan de Oro City for at least three weeks and have government feed them in the misguided and dangerous expectation that the virus will be gone ´permanently´ by the end of said lockdown.  Never mind that other advanced countries like the US kept imposing lockdowns to little or no effect, with the coronavirus never really going away and in fact mutating like rats. 

Then there are the paid mouth pieces of opposition figures who pluck every potential factoids online—like their line that the registrant´s bank accounts can be tampered by City Hall when the fact remains that only health data and not financial records are being asked—to build their argument against the ordinance.  Oh, they´re also repeating their argument that City Hall´s servers can be hacked even if they conveniently forget the fact that governments around the world still use their computerized databases despite frequent hacking by computer experts. 

Of course there are arguments from rights groups who view the ordinance as akin to invasion of privacy even if City Hall clarified that the measure upholds both the Data Privacy and Bank Secrecy laws.  The Oro Chamber´s position that City Hall should amend the ordinance in order to make it less punitive to business owners is also worth looking into.

Amid all the noise generated by the fiercest critics of the ordinance, Mayor Oscar Moreno stands as the voice of reason supporting its implementation.  As if the fact that other local governments also launched their own QR codes that are open to integration to the Stay Safe app,  Mayor Moreno rightly pointed out that the health data sourced from the Higalaay portal can be used to cross-check and counter-check city residents for the city´s vaccination program.

And as if that´s not enough assurance,  Mayor Moreno said they are willing to allow a third party audit of the Higalaay portal once the QR code requirement is in full effect by next month.  Mayor Moreno´s appeal for public support is augmented by his standing order on all departments charged with enforcing the ordinance to fully answer public inquiries into the issue. 

Taking that all into consideration,  I do join the others in calling on Kagay-anons and visitors and those doing business in the City of Golden Friendship to register at the Higalaay portal and secure their own QR code.  True that there are sacrifices and inconveniences to deal with but we have survived this pandemic so far and it´s best for our collective interest to stand with our government in defeating this virus once and for all.


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