Malilong: Huge quarantine bill

·3 min read

All the seven district representatives from the province and a party list congressman are backing Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia’s policy over that of the IATF on the testing of international arrivals at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

I have not seen a copy of the “manifesto of support” that they signed, but published reports indicate that it was addressed to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) that President Duterte created to oversee the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I seriously doubt if the IATF will be moved into changing its position even if the legal, constitutional and practical grounds that the congressmen cited may be correct.

The sad reality is that IATF has dug its heels on the issue so deeply (as has the governor, by the way) that it is next to impossible to convince them to reverse course without being ordered by the President. But I can see why the eight congressmen are not asking him to intervene. Garcia has already spoken to him last week and his reaction, again based on published reports, was to ask the Department of Health to review Garcia’s policy and determine if it can be adopted nationwide. In the meantime, the President reportedly told Garcia to follow the IATF guidelines.

Little has been heard so far about the results of the critique other than the comment of a DOH official praising the Cebu practice. Let’s hope that the reviewing committee, or however they are called, are not intentionally dragging their feet for fear of angering either Garcia or the IATF. Note that the regional DOH office has so far kept silent on such a very important issue affecting its mandate.

One of the biggest arguments in favor of the “Garcia protocol” is the huge financial burden that the IATF-mandated quarantine for 14 days even if the swab test results have come out negative, imposes not only on returning overseas Filipinos but also on the government.

As I already pointed out in a previous column, the cost of repatriating OFWs is shouldered by the government and rightly so, if I may add, because these are the people whose remittances have kept our economy from sinking deeper. As our modern-day heroes, they deserve every little way of showing our appreciation for their sacrifice.

The trouble is that there is nothing little of the money that the government paid and continues to pay for OFW’s 14-day quarantine. A hotel room costs a maximum of P3,000 per day, regardless of the hotel’s classification, according to a CNN report. Multiply that by 14 and keeping in mind that the normal flow of OFW arrivals runs from 2,000 to 3,000 per day, you can see why the funds administered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) are almost depleted.

Note that this money comes from the OFW’s contributions and are owned by them. They are intended for the workers’ benefits, not repatriation expenses, as Sen. Franklin Drilon has pointed out. But that (quarantine cost) was where the workers’ funds went. Last year, the agency rang the alarm bells, appealing for help because the Owwa can no longer sustain the expenses without government subsidy. The administration responded by granting the agency P5.2 billion last year and P6.2 billion this year with a promise of an additional P5.2 billion as soon as they can find the money.

So far this year, hotel costs have approached P3.5 billion, P700 million of which had been processed for payment, according to the Owwa. There is money — big money — in quarantine.

Now please do not impute any malice in the last sentence.

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