IATF allows balikbayans, foreign spouses to enter Philippines
Under IATF Resolution No. 85, the government approved on Nov. 26 the entry to the country of Filipino citizens’ foreign spouses and children, regardless of age, who are traveling with them.
AFP/Yasser Al-Zayyat

IATF allows balikbayans, foreign spouses to enter Philippines

Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — To allow more Filipino families to reunite with their loved ones this Christmas season, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has allowed the foreign spouses of Filipinos, their children and balikbayans to enter the country, with conditions, starting Dec. 7.

Under IATF Resolution No. 85, the government approved on Nov. 26 the entry to the country of Filipino citizens’ foreign spouses and children, regardless of age, who are traveling with them.

The IATF has also allowed the entry of former Filipino citizens, including their spouses and children, regardless of age, who are traveling with them.

The government has been encouraging balikbayans to return under the entry privileges granted them under Republic Act 6768 or the “Act Instituting the Balikbayan Program.”

“The entry of these persons will be subject to conditions such as they are allowed visa-free entry under Executive Order No. 408, series of 1960,” the IATF said.

Returning Filipinos and their foreign spouses/children should have pre-booked reservations to a quarantine facility, pre-booked COVID-19 testing at a laboratory operating at the airport and their travel is subject to the maximum capacity of inbound passengers at the port and the date of entry, the IATF said.

“The foregoing is without prejudice to immigration laws, rules and regulations such that the Commissioner of Immigration shall have the exclusive prerogative to decide on waiver orders for the above foreign nationals, including other foreign nationals who have entered the Philippines by virtue of Inter-Agency Task Force resolutions,” the resolution read.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles, co-chair of the IATF, signed the directive ahead of Malacañang’s decision on whether to retain Metro Manila and other key provinces/cities under general community quarantine.

Roque said the IATF directed the Bureau of Immigration to formulate the necessary guidelines to ensure the smooth implementation of this policy.

The Department of Tourism (DOT), on the other hand, was also directed to issue the necessary guidelines for the provision of sufficient accommodation for the above-mentioned persons, taking into account the release of their COVID-19 test results.

The DOT welcomes the move of the government to allow the entry of balikbayans into the country, in time for the Christmas holidays.?Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that allowing entry of balikbayans or former Filipino citizens during the holidays is a great cause for celebration for millions of families who long for the homecoming of their relatives abroad.  ?“This not only bodes well for our ailing industry but is good tidings for our kababayans who have been clamoring to be reunited with their loved ones from abroad, especially this Yuletide season,” Puyat said.?Last month, former tourism secretary Narzalina Lim suggested the review of a provision under IATF Resolution No. 60 which requires spouses, children and parents of Filipinos living abroad to get a visa before entering the Philippines.?“We need to reopen Philippine tourism and the balikbayan market is a low-hanging fruit which we should take advantage of,” Lim said.

Data security

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque allayed fears yesterday that the contact-tracing and data collection initiated by the government as part of efforts to contain COVID-19 would be used as security and surveillance operations against its citizens.

Roque said the creation of the ICT Team dubbed as Data Resiliency for Ease Access and Management (DREAM) would empower local government units (LGUs) to be more confident in using the information communications technology ecosystem that will help defeat the pandemic.

The team would primarily collect data to aid the government in recording statistics related to COVID-19. It would integrate digital contact tracing applications with the end view of “seamless linking and sharing of essential, necessary and accurate laboratory data, case data and statistical results.”

Roque explained that the inclusion of members of the Philippine National Police’s Directorate for Information and Communication Technology Management (PNP-DICTM) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Information Systems Management Division (AFP-ISMD) in the team is limited to assistance related to the technology development and application.

“The DREAM Team will not be involved in any data collection activities. The involvement of the PNP-DICTM and the AFP-ISMD in the Team is because they can supplement/augment the ICT capacity needed,” Roque said.

The IATF has approved the creation of DREAM as embodied under Resolution No. 85.

The DREAM Team is composed of members of ICT personnel from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), PNP-DICTM and AFP-ISMD.

According to Roque, the team will join the NTF CODE Teams in the NTF caravan in their various seminars with LGUs throughout the country to help deploy, train and provide support on the use of IATF information systems like FASSTER and COVID-Kaya.

Shuttle services

The IATF, in its 85th meeting, also approved to increase the operational capacity of commissioned shuttle services for employees of permitted offices or establishments.

The task force reiterated the need for offices to adopt a “one-seat apart” arrangement or a full seating capacity, provided there are necessary dividers and other health and safety measures in place.

To ensure smooth implementation on the use of shuttle, the IATF has asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to issue the necessary advisories for private shuttles.

The IATF also approved yesterday the recommendations of the sub-Technical Working Group on Information and Communications Technology Solutions, which include data collected through digital contact tracing applications shall conform with specific minimum data requirements as stated in the Department of Health (DOH) Memorandum No. 2020-0436 and other relevant issuances.

All data collected through digital contact tracing applications used by DOH-accredited COVID-19 health facilities, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, hospitals, establishments, workplaces, transportation vehicles/ hubs and LGUs shall be submitted to a centralized tracing data repository, which will be linked to either COVID-Kaya or the COVID-19 Document Repository System.

StaySafe.ph will be the government’s digital contact tracing application of choice and will be made mandatory for adoption and use in all national government agencies and instrumentalities as well as LGUs.

Private establishments, facilities and offices are encouraged to use Stafysafe.ph while for those with existing contact tracing applications are enjoined to integrate their systems with the Staysafe.ph system.

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