JUST as the arrivals of international flights at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) resumed on Sunday, June 6, 2021, Malacañang issued an extension of the diversion of Cebu-bound international flights to Metro Manila.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea signed on June 5, 2021 a memorandum that extends the diversion of international flights bound for MCIA to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.
The MCIA management and other agencies involved in the aviation industry apparently did not receive a copy of the extension memorandum, thus the airport welcomed international flights from Doha, Qatar and Singapore on Sunday, June 6.
The extension of the flight diversion is until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, June 12, and its purpose is to give MCIA the time to follow the protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Cebu-bound international flights to be diverted to Manila
Mactan airport resumes swab-upon arrival protocol
MCIA obeys Cebu province
The last international flight carrying 237 passengers arrived at MCIA from Doha, Qatar at 4:46 p.m. on Monday, June 7.
The first diversion of international flights happened from May 29 to June 5, and it was seen as a rebuke of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who had insisted on implementing her own testing and quarantine protocols for overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) arriving at MCIA.
IATF policy requires swab testing for Covid-19 only on the seventh day of arrival, with OFWs and ROFs undergoing 10-day facility-based quarantine and then four-day home quarantine after that if they test negative.
But in Cebu, Garcia’s memorandum issued on May 20, 2021 requires two swab tests to be conducted on OFWs and ROFs.
The first is upon arrival at the Cebu airport and the second on Day 7 from arrival, which would be conducted by the local government unit of destination.
This memorandum also requires those with negative test results to undergo home quarantine after they are released from their quarantine hotels and complete the IATF protocol of 14 days of quarantine from arrival.
The May 20 memorandum amended Garcia’s May 13, 2021 memorandum, which specified the arrival protocol for transiting OFWs and ROFs, and reiterated the arrival protocol for Cebu residents based on Executive Order No. 17 and Provincial Ordinance (PB) No. 2021-04.
Under EO 17, issued in March, OFWs and ROFs are tested on arrival at the MCIA. They shall stay in quarantine hotels only for a maximum of three days or until their test results come out. Those who test negative are allowed to go home without further requirements.
On June 6, eight local lawmakers signed a manifesto supporting her latest policy, while the Department of Health 7 sees it as an innovation by the Capitol.
Garcia gained national backing for her policy Tuesday after Senate President Vicente Sotto III stated his support on his Facebook page.
Sotto, in the post, said the IATF policy gives “additional burden” to OFWs and ROFs.
“I support the swab-upon-arrival policy in Cebu which is an initiative of Gov. Gwen Garcia. This is an innovative, safe and reasonable protocol, especially for our returning OFWs and ROFs. This is the kind of best practice that we should implement throughout the country,” he said.
However, the IATF, a national body, wants uniformity in policies in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. announced the extension of the flight diversion on Tuesday, June 8, a day after Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia announced that the MCIA follows the provincial ordinance that sets the policy of swabbing OFWs and ROFs on the day of their arrival at the airport in Lapu-Lapu City.
Reacting to the announcement, Garcia, in a brief statement sent to reporters through text message on June 8, said, “We will study our position as duly elected and accountable officials of the Province of Cebu. We all must adhere to the rule of law.”
Last Monday, Garcia said MCIA officials had agreed to follow PB Ordinance 2021-04 that mandates the conduct of the swab test upon arrival of Cebuanos from international flights.
“They were all in agreement that the Provincial Board ordinance is the recognized local law of the land unless it is otherwise declared ultra vires by a proper court. So, they all agreed that they would have to follow the Provincial Board ordinance because they do not want to break the law or violate the law,” Garcia said.
The June 5 extension memorandum, however, states that the national government wants the IATF protocols followed.
“To ensure that, upon resumption of international flights to the (MCIA), the travel and testing protocols approved by the (IATF) will be fully and seamlessly implemented, this Office hereby extends the diversion of international flights bound for MCIA to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, until (11:59 p.m.) of June 12, 2021,” the memorandum states.
Roque said the national government hopes that on June 13, “the IATF protocols on arriving OFWs and ROFs will be implemented in Cebu.”
SunStar Cebu and Superbalita tried to reach the MCIA management for its side, but did not get a response as of this writing. (ANV, REV / NRC / SunStar Philippines)