Editorial: Schools of thought on OFW, ROF protocol

·3 min read

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia disclosed on May 25 that Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco Jr., president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, informed her that local government Secretary Eduardo Año knew of a plan to sue her for being “defiant” of protocols concerning returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).

“He (Año) said IATF is firm that Reso 114 should be strictly complied. They are worried about transmission of variants. He said Sec. Harry (Roque) and (Justice Secretary) Meynard Guevarra are considering legal action against you,” thhe governor quoted Velasco as saying.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on May 6, 2021 issued Resolution 114, which outlined the protocol for arriving OFWs and ROFs. This resolution apparently was government’s response after the Department of Health and the University of the Philippines Genome Center, and the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health biosurveillance detected B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, and P.3 variants of the Covid-19. The resolution also came at the height of the dismal situation in India where the B.1.617 variant was reportedly rampant. Although the variants had not been detected in the Philippines, it was present in 26 countries, the resolution read.

At the time Resolution 114 was released, we had had 62,713 active Covid-19 cases. The IATF found it even more crucial to continue proactive measures, specifically imposing more rigid protocols in our ports of entry. It required arriving travellers to undergo a 14-day quarantine, the first 10 days of which had to be spent in a quarantine facility, with the remaining days to be completed in their home destinations. Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing “shall be conducted on the seventh day with Day 1 being the day of arrival.” Whatever the result of the test will be, the traveller still has to complete the 10-day quarantine requirement.

Health Secretary Rosario Vergeire later explained the wisdom behind the seventh-day swab, saying that it was about the number of days that the virus can be detected in the human body after an incubation period. The count begins upon arrival.

The Cebu governor, in a live conference, replied to allegations of defiance, saying she was still following the IATF guidelines, but tweaked some details as a matter of “innovation,” as she calls it.

“Defiant kuno ko (They say I am defiant). Dili man ko (I am not) defiant. I’m just trying to look for the best possible way to implement policies that will not further burden our people,” she said.

In her executive order, OFWs and ROFs arriving at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport will immediately undergo an RT-PCR test, and wait for results in a quarantine hotel for three days. If negative, they will be allowed to proceedd to their final destination and continue home quarantine and submit themselves to a second swab on the seventh day.

“Moingon sila didto sa Manila maka-infect gihapon na. Aw, di nalang diay ta motuo sa resulta kon negative (They in Manila are saying that people who test negative are still infectious)... Then why are we testing di man diay ta motuo (if we don’t believe in the result)... You asked us to trust the RT-PCR. You must also trust the RT-PCR nga kung negative na siya paulion na nimo (that if it comes out negative then you allow the individual to go home). That is good for the next 72 hours, isn’t it? Pa-uli-on largo sa ilang probinsya maka-infect diay na (They can infect if you allow them to go straight home)?” Garcia said.

We believe the matter on viral activity and transmissibility in relation to timelines can be clarified by health experts. The matter comes out as another contention that may well be resolved by science itself and not on the political front—definitely not in the turf where Roque, Guevarra or Garcia stand.

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