Did Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia violate the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) policy on arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs)? Why won’t IATF officials and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which has direct control and supervision over local officials, face Gwen head-on by filing administrative charges for insubordination against her or going to court to revoke Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, which was based on Gwen’s Executive Order 17?
Why is the IATF making the lives of OFWs and ROFs miserable just to get back at Gwen? They cannot do any legal action against Gwen because the lady governor has enough legal basis to support her policy, which is within the framework of our Constitution and the Local Government Code, especially on local autonomy.
Diverting international flights to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is a “resbak” or retaliation against Gwen for her “defiance” against the IATF policy. Although the diversion of flights is set to expire on Saturday, June 12, 2021, we don’t know if this will be extended again if Gwen will not blink or reconsider her policy. They are hitting Gwen in another angle instead of facing the issue head-on. They are adopting the principle of “there are so many ways to skin a cat.”
But the IATF’s move is misdirected. It is not Gwen who is feeling the heat. The OFWs and ROFs are the ones being sacrificed because they are dumped in Metro Manila, which inconveniences them. I thought these people who made the decision on the flights’ diversion and this administration, in general, were looking into the welfare of our ROFs and OFWs, who are considered as “modern- day heroes.”
Gwen’s policy has gained strong support from majority of Cebu’s lawmakers, Metro Cebu City mayors, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu province chapter and some senators, namely Senate President Tito Sotto, Bong Revilla, Sonny Angara, Miguel Zubiri, Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva. The senators also considered the economic aspect and humanitarian considerations in supporting the governor’s policy. Imagine, the government can save P300 million if Gwen’s policy is adopted nationwide.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is the one shouldering the hotel expenses of quarantined OFWs. Also, why require ROFs to shell out their hard-earned money on quarantine? Some of them even borrowed money just to be back home for emergency purposes.
As I have pointed out in my previous columns, Gwen did not “defy” the IATF policy. She just “innovated” it. She’s still observing the medicine point of view and the science-based aspect. It would have been defiant if Gwen totally ignored and disregarded the IATF’s policy like no swabbing at all. Her policy is more science-based because it’s double-swabbing.
But you know, some of the IATF’s policies are copied from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And here are the latest travel restrictions in the US, which differ for those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not. People who are vaccinated are still at possible risk of getting and spreading virus variants, so the CDC advised that in addition to the mandatory test to board the return flight, they also get tested three to five days after they returned to the United States. However, the CDC says they don’t need to quarantine unless they receive a positive result. They also don’t need a pre-test before departing from the US. (Please take note of the phrase “They don’t need to quarantine.”)
Unvaccinated travelers are asked to have a pre-test one to three days before leaving the United States: to get the mandatory test before their return flight and to be tested three to five days after they return home. They also are advised to self-quarantine for seven days upon their return even with a negative result. People who don’t want to be tested are asked to stay at home for 10 days (14 days with known exposure). Please take note of the word, “self-quarantine.” (Source: The New York Times by Karen Schwartz, June 8, 2021).
This policy does not differ from the swab-upon-arrival policy of Gwen. Swab upon arrival after two days and if the result is negative, the OFW and ROF will be allowed to go home but still to be monitored in his/her home by the rural health officer and to be still swabbed on the seventh day. Isn’t this policy more economical to the concerned sector? Gwen is doing a “balancing act” by taking into account financial and humanitarian considerations to lessen the burden of our OFWs and ROFs.