DOT exec: Immunity program offered by exclusive Balesin resort not a medical emergency
This file photo shows a view of Balesin Island Club in Quezon Province.
Balesin Island Club/Facebook

DOT exec: Immunity program offered by exclusive Balesin resort not a medical emergency

Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - March 25, 2021 - 1:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — Travelers from National Capital Region and four nearby provinces are only allowed to go out of the so-called “bubble” if there are legitimate medical emergencies and other essential reasons, according to Tourism Undersecretary Benito “Bong” Bengzon Jr.

Bengzon, the spokesperson of the Department of Tourism, made the reiteration after the agency received reports from “concerned citizens” that an exclusive resort in east of Quezon province, is offering a program wherein its members could still travel outside the Greater Manila bubble through a medical certificate for an immunity program.

“We are aware that non-essential travel is not allowed. However, there is an exception with reference to travel for ‘medical purposes,’” Balesin Island Club chair Roberto Ongpin said in a letter dated March 22 obtained by the DOT.

“I have asked our Medical Director of Aegle Wellness, Center, Dr. Ben Valdecanas, to develop an Anti-COVID Immunity Treatment Program for which all intending visitors to Balesin, whether members or guests, can legitimately sign up,” he added.

Immunity program not new

In a separate statement on Wednesday, the exclusive resort explained that its resort was allowed to reopen for “precisely the same medical reason” when the NCR was also locked down during the modified enhanced community quarantine implemented in August last year.  

“All Balesin visitors were required to undergo an Immunity Booster Program at Aegle Wellness Center. Aegle Wellness Center is an extensive medical facility on Balesin, which is staffed by doctors and other medical personnel on a 24/7 basis,” the resort’s statement read.

“Balesin is COVID-free and pure sea air environment is surely safer than anywhere in Metro Manila,” it added.

Bengzon, however, said this time, the DOT does not consider the resort’s immunity program as a medical emergency.

“Sa ngayon, hindi natin pinapayagan ang movement to that particular resort. Kung sinasabi nilang ginagawa nila to dati, very clear ang guidelines ng IATF, hindi ka puwede lumabas dito sa tinatawag na NCR bubble except for exceptional cases – humanitarian or medical emergency,” the tourism official said at the Thursday’s Laging Handa Press Briefing.

(Right now, we are not allowing the movement to that particular resort. If they are saying they are doing this before, the IATF’s guidelines are clear, you are not allowed to go out of the so-called bubble except for exceptional cases— humanitarian or medical)

“So, sa nakikita namin, hindi naman matuturing na medical emergency ‘yung inooffer nilang services,” he added.

(So, based on what we’re seeing, the services they are offering are not medical emergency)

In a separate statement on Tuesday, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat echoed the statement, saying the IATF Resolution No. 104 is clear.

“The exceptions for non-essential travel should not to be used as a means to circumvent the restrictions. There is a reason for the rule and the exceptions as well,” Puyat said.

“The guidelines are clear, when we talk of medical exemptions we are talking about medical emergencies or those cases with urgency. Our health workers just asked for two weeks. Let’s respect that,” she added.

Probe into Balesin Island Club

Puyat reportedly said the DOT would launch a probe into the immunity program of Balesin.

Asked when the investigation will take place and whether the resort would be issued a show cause order, both Puyat and DOT Region IV-A director Michael Angara Palispis have yet to respond to Philstar.com’s inquiry.

Meanwhile, Bengzon called on travelers to heed the latest IATF’s ban on non-essential travels.

He said staycation is still allowed within the NCR bubble.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 18, 2021 - 10:22am

Find the latest travel and tourism news from around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. Main image by AFP/Romeo Gacad

June 18, 2021 - 10:22am

The pandemic task force's directives on quarantine and testig supercede those of local government units, it says in a press statement through the Presidential Communications Operations Office. 

"[T]he IATF reiterates the strict enforcement of current testing and quarantine protocols duly approved and issued by the IATF for inbound international travelers in all ports of the country regardless of any specific protocols that may be issued the local government units on the contrary," it says.

It adds national government agencies have been instructed "to ensure strict adherence to the abovementioned directive."

June 17, 2021 - 1:04pm

Japan says it will make a vaccine passport available from next month for Japanese travellers, as governments around the world experiment with ways to relaunch tourism and business trips.

"We are preparing to issue a certificate of vaccination for those who need one... when they visit foreign countries," top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato tells reporters.

The certificate will be paper-based rather than digital and will be issued by local governments from sometime next month, he says. — AFP

June 17, 2021 - 11:41am

The Department of Tourism says there has been a 61.2% decrease in the contribution of the tourism industry to the Philippine economy in 2020. 

The Tourism Direct Gross Value Added, based on the data of the Philippine Statistics Authority, dropped to P973.31 billion last year compared with the P2.51 trillion in 2019.

"This is only 5.4% of  the industry’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, a steep decline from the 12.8 percent in 2019," the DOT says in a statement.

June 11, 2021 - 7:53am

Two guests on one of the first cruise ships to sail from North America since the COVID-19 pandemic hit tested positive Thursday, the cruise company said, adding all passengers and crew had been vaccinated.

The Celebrity Millennium, carrying about 600 passengers and 650 crew, set sail from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten on Saturday for a seven-day including stops in Barbados, Aruba and Curacao.

"Two guests sharing a stateroom onboard Celebrity Millennium tested positive for COVID-19 while conducting the required end-of-cruise testing," Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

"The individuals are asymptomatic and currently in isolation."

It said that the ship exceeded US COVID-19 guidelines, and all guests were required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test before sailing. — AFP

June 9, 2021 - 10:04am

The US State Department urges Americans to reconsider travel to the Philippines because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for the Philippines due to COVID-19, indicating a high level of COVID-19 in the country," it says in a travel advisory, saying also that there are restrictions on the entry of US citizens into the country.

"Additionally, exercise increased caution due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and kidnapping," it also says.

The US State Department says US citizens should not travel to the Sulu Archipelago and Marawi City because of security risks, which include "crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and kidnapping." Travel to other areas of Mindanao should also be reconsidered for the same reasons.

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