Real raps for Boracay tourists over fake COVID-19 test results

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Real raps for Boracay tourists over fake COVID-19 test results
This 2020 file photo shows Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan
Philippine News Agency / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Tourism on Monday said it has filed complaints against the six tourists from Manila who falsified their RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test results.

The DOT said Marc Judicpa of the DOT Region VI-Boracay Field and Compliance Monitoring Office (BFCMO) filed the complaint but it did not say when and where it was filed.

The six errant Boracay tourists were nabbed in January for falsification of public documents, particularly for violating Republic Act 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, and Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Last February 3, the DOT said one of the six tourists tested positive for COVID-19.

In view of these violations, the Department of Interior and Local Government and Aklan and Malay local government units reinforced the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases regulations and health and safety protocols for the protection of guests, workers and host communities

The DOT lauded these recent parallel actions and also vowed to be vigilant against erring tourists.

“We will continue to be vigilant and ensure that these collaborative interventions will deter entry of such delinquent and unwanted visitors. This is how serious the DOT is in the enforcement of existing health and safety rules,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

The tourism agency also welcomed the directive to the Philippine National Police “to arrest and prosecute individuals who are forging their RT-PCR tests.”

Stiff penalties for faking results

It said that the DILG has emphasized falsifying of COVID-19 test results is “a crime punishable under RA No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act which provides for penalties of P20,000 but not more than P50,000 or imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than six months, or both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court.”   

Under the Section 1-B of RA 11332, “tampering of records relating to notifiable diseases or health events of public health concern, which includes official medical test results or medical certificates, or such other documents and records issued by public health authorities” is punishable by law. 

'Tighten registration procedure'

Aside from reinforcement of the law against forging of documents or records that are of public concern, the DOT said the registration procedure involving verification of submitted COVID-19 test results and hotel books should be tightened.

“With the growing number of applications and visitors, along with difficulties in reaching the laboratory centers and hotels, the short validity of the test and time given to book the flights, there is high occurrence of issuing provisional QR codes which are validated at ports of entry,” the agency said.   

A Boracay QR code is the final requirement before entry to the island.

“In anticipation of the further relaxation of regulations governing inter- and intra-regional movements, the LGUs should be prepared to address an increase in the number of applications and visits. Enforcement is key and we must all do our share in keeping Boracay safe,” Puyat added.  

The DOT said that there are now around ten to 12 validation and monitoring officers per shift on two shifts a day, seven days a week, who are verifying the required documents before they issue the Boracay QR code to tourists.

Its Region VI-BFCMO said it will continue to work closely with the local government units of Aklan and Malay “to ensure enforcement of minimum health and safety protocols at the DOT-accredited accommodation establishments and other tourism enterprises and in the island, in general.”

Still no saliva test

Malay Municipal Tourism Office in a Facebook post on Sunday said RT-PCR tests remain to be the requirement for entry to the island.

It said that DOT-VI Regional Director Helen Catalbas last February 4 said the Philippine Red Cross’ saliva test is not yet accepted.

“Related to this, for quick RT-PCR verification, choose testing laboratories with QRs. Though non-QR test results from Department of Health-accredited testing centers are accepted, results with QRs are quicker to get verified,” the tourism office reminded.

“Quicker verification means quicker issuance of Boracay QR codes,” it added.

The DOT has partnered with the—Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and the Philippine Children’s Medical Hospital (PCMC) for subsidized RT-PCR tests in December. The subsidized COVID-19 tests are available at P900 and P750 in UP-PGH and PCMC, respectively.

Meanwhile, Boracay island which has reopened to the public in October 2020 receives an average of 300 to 400 tourists a day.

In January, a total of 11,898 visitors visited the top tourist destination.

It also received 7,543 tourists from February 1 to 14.

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