MIDDLE of this month, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) temporarily closed its runways to international flight arrivals because the hotels being used as quarantine facilities for arriving passengers were nearing full capacity. Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia announced the shutdown. “We were facing a crisis,” she said.
A few days later, the governor requested the Civil Aeronautics Board to lift the restrictions because the danger of overflowing quarantine hotels had been removed with the implementation of her coronavirus testing policies for returning overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers.
She had a point. Under her new policy, arriving passengers will be tested upon arrival, then wait in the quarantine facility for the results to come out and if found negative, can proceed to their respective destinations immediately thereafter. Since the laboratories take only between two to three days to process the tests, the turnover at the hotels will be quicker, allowing for more rooms available.
There was a hitch, though. The powerful IATF has mandated that testing can be done only on the seventh day and that even if it comes out negative, the passenger will still have to stay in the hotel to complete their prescribed 10 days of quarantine.
Garcia insisted that her policy be followed. Earlier in February when a group that advises the IATF recommended that Cebu be placed on lockdown, she angrily told them not to mess with the Cebuanos because “we can take care of ourselves.” Addressing the IATF three months later, Garcia was as resolute as ever. She was not going back to its “repressive quarantine policies,” she said.
The test of wills may have ended a day after Garcia announced that two Cabinet officials were planning to sue her for her defiance of national policy. Last Thursday, Malacañang shut down the MCIA’s international operations again, directing the rerouting of Cebu-bound international flights to Manila instead for a period of seven days.
It was clearly a rebuke to Garcia no matter how hard Palace spokesperson Harry Roque tried to cushion it by claiming that the rerouting was due to the shortage of rooms in Cebu’s quarantine hotels.
The memorandum is a huge and reckless mistake, especially with an election fast approaching. Public opinion is on Garcia’s side, and although she and Malacañang are on the same side, it will be difficult to not remember which team member was oppressive and should be cast aside.
Ten days on quarantine and in Manila yet is a big ordeal. These are people who are excited to be with their family after a long separation. Some of them may be fully vaccinated while all of them must surely have been swabbed at the port of origin. Why are we making life more miserable for them?
Garcia is flying to Manila, accompanied by Opav Secretary Mike Dino, to convince the President that what she’s doing is not defiance but innovation and to trust the Cebuanos to take care of themselves. We also happen to have long memories, she can probably add.