CEBU Governor Gwendolyn Garcia once more appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to give the Province the freedom to forge its own rules for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).
However, this time, Garcia offered a compromise: Let her rules apply only to Cebuanos.
“Let this be a compromise. The Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 which has adopted Executive order No. 17 will apply only to Cebuanos. For the rest, to those that will take the Cebu route and are non-Cebuanos and need to go home to their respective provinces, we will gladly accommodate them here in our hotels,” said Garcia.
“Cebu is still on MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) status. Give us this responsibility. We have taken this within our hands. We have been able to handle,” Garcia said during a special Provincial Board (PB) session with the IATF officials held at the Capitol Social Hall on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.
“With all due respect, please, I speak not as a doctor. I certainly am not. Not as a scientist. I certainly am not. But I speak with the deep sense of duty as an elected official as our vice governor and board members, congressmen and mayors are elected officials accountable to the people who elected us,” Garcia added.
Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 is the local law covering the governor’s swab on arrival policy and Cebu’s more relaxed quarantine protocols.
Under the ordinance, returning Filipinos who test negative during their first swab test at the airport will again be tested on the seventh day, but in their hometowns or destinations through the different local government units (LGUs).
The ordinance runs counter to the 10-day facility-based quarantine mandated by the IATF nationwide.
“Allow us to take this into our own hands. We cannot govern with assumptions, with models,” Garcia said.
At the special session with the governor, experts from the Department of Health (DOH) and World Health Organization (WHO) were brought in by the IATF to explain the new Covid-19 variant also known as the Delta variant which has spread to 85 countries across the globe.
University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Director Edsel Maurice Salvana explained that Cebu also needs to consider the passengers’ high risk of contamination to the highly contagious Delta variant during travel.
“It takes one instance, malusutan lang tayo ng isa, magsusurge ito ng todo-todo especially na mababa pa ang vaccination natin (just one, and the cases will definitely surge especially since our vaccination rate is still low),” said Salvana.
There are 17 cases of the Delta variant recorded in the Philippines, based on the latest statistics from the DOH.
The cases were immediately controlled due to the IATF’s quarantine restrictions, reports said.
WHO Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyansinghe said because of the variant’s strength, even those who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 may still contract the disease.
“You are in a unique position now. We recognize the fast vaccination coverage. We need to make that the status quo. Therefore, it is imperative that we have uniform protocols to delay the entry of the Delta variant,” Abeyansinghe said.
DOH 7 epidemiologist Mary Jean Loreche, for her part, said some ROFs had been found positive for Covid-19 after being swabbed upon arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).
Others have gone home to their respective LGUs to continue their mandatory quarantine period there.
Garcia’s more relaxed protocols are meant to spare OFWs and ROFs the additional expenses incurred when staying in a quarantine facility.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that all of those who check into quarantine facilities and hotels are strictly monitored.
“While we laud you in your accomplishments on the fight against Covid-19, I also beg of you not to put our guard down, not to be complacent and not to think that we have been successful really in defeating the virus. Because the dangerous thing about the coronavirus, ladies and gentlemen, honorable members of the Sanggunian, is that compared to the other viruses, the virus constantly mutates,” said IATF Co-Chairperson Secretary Karlo Nograles.
Nograles said while Cebu’s Covid protocols could be discussed further, the President’s orders should be paramount.
“They also have valid points obviously, but at the end of the day while they are valid you will also have to look at the ease in implementation, how easy it is to implement,” Nograles said.
“The next action is to continue the conversation, but on our side syempre (of course) in the IATF, we only give recommendations to the President. At the end of the day, there is only one policy maker and implementer which is the President,” Nograles said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said all points raised in the session will be subject to further deliberation.
“This has to be deliberated upon by the IATF with, of course, our 55 or so experts. But really, there is nothing for me to say because we are just here upon the gracious invitation of the Provincial Board so we made ourselves available,” said Duque. (RHB)