CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said she will travel to Malacañang with Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino on Monday, May 31, 2021, to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte, and defend her testing and quarantine protocols for returning overseas Filipinos and migrant workers.
She said Dino, who heads the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav), was arranging a meeting with Duterte so she can present a situationer on the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) epidemic in Cebu and show that the Province is an “evolving success story” in terms of achieving a balance between public health and the economy.
“We are going together with Secretary Michael Dino to the President so we may be able to present how our processes do not necessarily defy IATF guidelines. However, we are innovating, to quote Usec Densing (DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing),” Garcia said.
She said Covid-19 protocols for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROF) should be more considerate and should not add to their financial burden.
In an interview with dySS Super Radyo Cebu early Friday morning, Garcia said Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Regional Director Leocadio Trovela had informed her a few days ago that diverting international flights bound for Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City was one of the options being considered by the national government.
A memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea Thursday ordered the rerouting of incoming international flights from May 29 to June 5, 2021.
Twelve flights will be affected, according to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority. The passenger volume for these flights was not available.
Lack of hotel rooms
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the flights are being diverted temporarily not because of Garcia’s alleged “defiance,” but because of the lack of quarantine hotel rooms in Cebu.
“There is no defiance. What happened in Cebu is that they ran out of hotel rooms. The DOT (Department of Tourism) approved only today the mixed use of hotels in Cebu,” he said.
Roque pointed out that MCIA suspended international arrivals for two days on May 14 and 15 because the hotels were full.
With the rerouting, Cebu-bound passengers will have to abide by the IATF protocol to undergo facility-based quarantine for 10 days and get swabbed on the seventh day.
They will only be allowed to proceed to Cebu if they test negative for the virus and complete the 10-day quarantine. Upon reaching home, they must complete four more days of home quarantine.
He stressed that the diversion of flights is temporary, “habang inaayos lang po natin yung arrival protocols (while we fix the arrival protocols).”
Medialdea’s memorandum also ordered the enforcement of the arrival protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in all ports of entry nationwide.
Under IATF Resolution 114, all international arrivals, regardless of vaccination status, are required to undergo quarantine for 14 days and a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for coronavirus on the seventh day.
If the test result is negative, the traveler must still complete 10 days of quarantine in a facility and undergo home quarantine for the remaining four days.
In Cebu, Garcia’s Executive Order 17 requires ROFs and OFWs to be swabbed upon arrival and undergo quarantine in a hotel only while waiting for the test result. A provincial ordinance has been approved to strengthen this directive.
“Please do not ask me to suspend my EO or the provincial ordinance. We have been able to show that our protocols are better,” Garcia said.
“When an ROF goes home, he will have to spend for his stay in a quarantine hotel. If he stays for 10 days, he will need to spend P30,000 or P50,000, which they could use to help his family instead,” she added.
Quarantine hotels in Cebu expect to lose millions of pesos in revenues because of the rerouting of flights, according to Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC) president Alfred Reyes.
”We will be really badly hit because of that decision coming from Malacañang. However, we all know that these are basically decisions coming from our government. We, as a private entity, will abide and follow whatever the decisions coming from the government,” he said.
Reyes said he was certain that the government took into consideration the difficulties besetting the hospitality industry.
“We would like to ask the government to reconsider, to look at our stakeholders, especially now that we are in a difficult situation, to hopefully resolve these issues and to help our hospitality industry and those who don’t have jobs,” he said.
Reyes said there are 2,400 rooms intended for quarantine hotels, including 10 hotels in the city that are accredited by the Department of Health (DOH).
As of this week, these hotels are about 30 percent occupied. Reyes said they expect occupancy to decrease to single-digit levels by next week.
He said HRRAC’s request to allow mixed use, so that these hotels can accept other guests aside from those in quarantine, has been approved. Five five-star hotels have yet to receive approval, though.
HRRAC also recently asked the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, which pays for the quarantine hotel stay of OFWs, to increase rates to P2,400 for the four-star and five-star hotels, and P2,000 for three-star hotels and below.
Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes expressed support for Garcia’s testing and quarantine policy.
“Yes (I support Garcia’s EO 17). The bottomline is to simplify things, not to complicate. The people have been suffering for almost two years,” said Cortes.
He said the rerouting of flights would have an economic impact on the city.
He said he will discuss the issue with other local government units (LGUs) so they could come up with a common and united stand.
Cortes said the LGUs and the IATF must meet halfway. (ANV/JOB/KFD)