Senators back Cebuâs swab-upon-arrival policy for OFWs
Photo shows Terminal 2 of the Mactan Cebu International Airport. The building’s most notable feature is the arched roof, which was inspired by the waves surrounding Mactan Island.

Senators back Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy for OFWs

(Philstar.com) - June 10, 2021 - 5:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — At least five senators have thrown their support behind Cebu's policy of testing Filipinos returning from overseas upon arrival, disputing criticism that it runs contrary to guidelines set by the national pandemic task force. 

This comes amid Malacañang's continued diversion of all international flights bound for Cebu to Manila and its call on the provincial government to implement Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) protocols by June 13, a day after the extended diversion of flights is set to expire. 

Per IATF rules, inbound travelers must quarantine for 10 days in a government facility and be tested on the seventh day. They are also required to quarantine at their homes for another four days.

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, due to a shortage of rooms and quarantine facilities, issued executive orders allowing returning Filipinos to be swabbed upon arrival and return home if they test negative for COVID-19. They are required to undergo another swab test on their seventh day back. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III in a statement Wednesday said he "strongly" supports Cebu's implementation of the swab-upon-arrival policy.

He also criticized the IATF's own guidelines as causing an "additional burden" to inbound Filipinos "by requiring them to spend their time and hard-earned money to stay in hotels and accredited quarantine facilities." 

According to Sotto, because Cebu still requires home quarantine for a total of 14 days, it is not in violation of IATF rules. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday commended Cebu for "coming up with localized protocols in responding to the pandemic." 

"I am certain they have taken into account their situation, as well as the plight of our OFWs, before coming up with these measures," she said. 

Sen. Bong Revilla on Wednesday similarly lauded the provincial government for "extending humanitarian considerations" to returning migrant workers "who are besieged with various challenges during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic." 

Like Sotto, he argued that the policy did not run contrary to IATF rules. 

Implementation of Cebu's policy in other areas pushed 

Sen. Joel Villanueva on Thursday said Cebu's swab-upon-arrival policy as "sensible, but science-based" and "low-cost but highly-effective."

"It is a kind of health checkpoint that spares OFWs of the hassles of quarantine. It saves them time and money, both of which are better spent with and for their families," he said.

He added that the government saves money through the policy, noting that an average of 10,000 overseas Filipino workers quarantine in 114 hotels per day.

At such a rate, he warned, the government will use up in five months its entire P6.2 billion budget for OFW assistance this year. 

"If we adopt Cebu's approach as national policy, the government will be saving billions of pesos a year. Just think how many vaccines that [amount] can buy," Villanueva said partially in Filipino. 

"At the very least, the Cebu formula needs to be tested in other cities. Success has to be replicated not repressed," he added. "We should encourage innovation, especially during this new normal, when conditions change rapidly." 

Sen. Sonny Angara on Wednesday said he hoped Cebu's "practical" swab-upon-arrival policy will be implemented in other parts of the country as well. 

The diversion of flights from Mactan-Cebu International Airport to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was first imposed from May 29 to June 5.

It was extended to June 12 through a memorandum order issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea which stressed the need to ”ensure that travel and testing protocols approved by the [IATF will be fully and seamlessly implemented upon resumption of international flights to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.”

— Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from The STAR

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