Guidelines for OFWs, balikbayans during the Luzon lockdown
In this file photo, a police officer walks along the entrance to Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
The STAR/Edd Gumban, file

Guidelines for OFWs, balikbayans during the Luzon lockdown

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - March 18, 2020 - 6:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases in a late night press conference Wednesday night announced that Luzon airports will no longer have to close on March 20, amid the enhanced community quarantine over the region.

This means that Overseas Filipino Workers intending to leave for, and return to, their workplaces abroad may leave any day during the lockdown in Luzon, which extends until April 12.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that OFWs were allowed to leave because “they need to work abroad and they have contracts aborad.”

FOLLOW: LIVE updates: COVID-19 in the Philippines and the Luzon quarantine

Here are some of the guidelines released by the task force that OFWs may need to know:

Arranging documents at POEA

With the suspension of mass transportation, OFWs with no private vehicle and intending to submit and prepare documents at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are left with no means of transport.

Nograles said that they may coordinate with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to help them.

“We discussed that, that’s why this is included in guidelines that they may be helped by OWWA,” he said in Filipino.

Final departure briefing, Overseas Employment Certificate

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said OFWs may go to POEA to process their Overseas Employment Certificate, a requirement for all OFWs.

This is also because some recruitment agencies may not be open during the enhanced community quarantine.

Bello said they may also reach out to DOLE’s hotline 1349.

“What is important so you can fly out is that you have a verified contract of employment to where you are going. With that, POEA will give you an OEC. With that, you can go to your place of destination,” Bello said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Flights in Luzon airports

“OFWs, balikbayans and foreign nationals leaving for abroad through any parts of Luzon shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine,” Nograles said.

Nograles stressed that “non-essential trips” abroad by Filipinos will not be allowed.

Transportation to, and from the airport

Private cars are allowed to ply roads in Luzon for essential travels. OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac told DZMM on Wednesday that OFWs heading to the airport may only have one companion or driver.

It will also help if the driver will have a copy of the OFW’s travel itinerary so they may present it at checkpoints.

Meanwhile, OFWs intending to leave the country may also tap OWWA to provide them with transportation services.

OWWA will also help balikbayans and ferry them “from international ports to their respective destinations in Luzon.”

Initial 72-hour window lifted

The announcement of lifting of the Luzon airports closures for OFWs and balikbayanas was almost 16 hours since Duterte first announced the stricter lockdown in Luzon.

Duterte first announced on March 16 that outbound passengers intending to depart via Luzon airports will have 72 hours from the effectivity of the quarantine—midnight March 17— to leave.

Following Duterte’s pronouncement, the Department of Transportation shortly released a guideline which includes:

Airport operation shall be limited to outgoing flights carrying foreigners and tourists. Filipinos are not allowed to go outside the country.

At 3:30 p.m. the next day, the Bureau of Immigration however said that Filipinos may leave the country as long as the country they are going to is not covered  by the travel ban.

In a message to reporters, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said: “We confirmed with the Secretary of Justice that Filipinos are indeed allowed to depart the country within the next 72 hours, excepts those covered by recently-imposed travel restrictions...unless their flights have been cancelled by the airlines or the Civil Aeronautics Board.”

Past 10 p.m., Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said that the IATF was lifting the 72-hour deadline for those leaving aborad. “No more closures,” Puyat told Philstar.com.

Nograles confirmed this in a press conference later Tuesday night.

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