The government’s task force on the coronavirus pandemic has yet to approve domestic air travel routes, forcing airlines to cancel flights despite the easing of quarantine measures nationwide.
Philstar.com/Kristine Joy Patag, file
LGUs hedge on resumption of domestic flights
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Some local government units (LGUs) are opposed to the resumption of domestic flights over concerns about the possible spread of the coronavirus, officials said yesterday.

“I talked to CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) and CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines). Apparently, the problem is local government units are refusing to admit passengers from the domestic flights. So that has to be ironed out,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national policy on the coronavirus disease, said the transportation department has submitted guidelines on local flights.

He said for now, air travel is open to inbound passengers who are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“We will see if we could consult with the LGUs. Because we have seen that the LGUs are really afraid to have open travel,” Galvez added.

The government’s task force on the coronavirus pandemic has yet to approve domestic air travel routes, forcing airlines to cancel flights despite the easing of quarantine measures nationwide.

Galvez said the government had limited the number of returning passengers to 400 to 600 per day. He said the limit would be raised to 1,000 to 1,500 people a day because about 42,000 OFWs are expected to come home this month.

Limiting the number of passengers aboard repatriation flights was one of the precautionary measures against the pandemic, which has infected about six million people worldwide, more than 18,000 of them in the Philippines.

Duterte has ordered LGUs to accept returning OFWs, saying the migrant workers have the right to travel and to return to their provinces.

At least 160 Filipino tourists, students and OFWs stranded in Japan arrived yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The stranded Filipinos departed from Narita International Airport via a chartered flight arranged by the Philippine embassy in Tokyo.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V sent off the repatriates and assured them that the Philippine government will continue to actively promote the welfare of Filipinos wherever they are in the world.

He extended his gratitude to the Cebu Pacific management for cooperating with the embassy in bringing Filipinos home.

The passengers came from all over Japan and have been stranded for close to two months due to multiple flight cancellations, limited airline seat availability, or prohibitive airfare rebooking costs.

The embassy also provided welfare and financial assistance to Filipinos, especially tourists and students who came to Japan on a limited budget, and could no longer support themselves during their unplanned prolonged stay in Japan.

Upon arrival at the NAIA, the passengers would undergo mandatory testing and facility quarantine in accordance with existing Philippine government guidelines.

A total of 330 Filipino crewmembers of MV Britannia also arrived in Manila Monday.

Upon their arrival from the United Kingdom, the seafarers were led to the “one-stop shop” desks for testing and assessment.

As of May 31, a total of 31,528 overseas Filipinos (OFs) have been repatriated by the Philippine government.

Some recruitment agencies have objected to the plan of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to open Clark, Cebu and Davao international airports to decongest Manila’s quarantine facilities with the expected arrival of some 42,000 repatriated OFWs.

Recruitment and migration consultant Manny Geslani said the plan is impractical and could cause more problems for the arriving OFWs who reside in Luzon if they will land in Cebu or Davao.

“The opening of more alternate international airports is good for tourism but impractical since OFW charter flights are a mixed bunch, consisting of 50 percent Luzon residents and the rest are either from the Visayas or Mindanao.”

Except for Manila, the rest of the nine alternate international airports remain closed, with some exceptions.

The CAAP on May 3 issued a Notice to Airmen (Notam) suspending flights, both domestic and international, passenger and commercial, to and from the Philippines covering nine airports.

The CAAP issued the Notam after Secretary Galvez requested the DOTr to suspend the flights.

The nine airports covered by the Notam are NAIA, Davao International Airport, Clark International Airport, Iloilo International Airport, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Zamboanga International Airport, Kalibo International Airport, Laoag International Airport and Puerto Princesa International Airport.

CAAP said cargo flights, sweeper flights, medical flights, utility flights, and maintenance flights are not covered by the Notam “and can continue operating.”

During a meeting in Malacañang last Thursday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade suggested to President Duterte to decongest the NAIA in Metro Manila and transfer the flights of returning OFWs to other provinces and regions.

Asked when the rest of the alternate airports will lift restrictions, CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio said this would depend on any agreement between the LGU where the airport is located and the concerned airline. Pia Lee-Brago, Rudy Santos

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