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IATF urged: Find 'middle ground' for returning OFWs

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IATF urged: Find 'middle ground' for returning OFWs
An international airline ground staff wearing protective gear works at the airport in Manila on August 4, 2020.
AFP / Ted Aljibe, file

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers urged the coronavirus task force to find a compromise to allow overseas Filipino workers to return to their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that "small adjustments" by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases could make all the difference for balikbayans and returning OFWs. 

This comes after 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. 

"Find the middle ground. We cannot be too stiff, too stringent. There are times we should be flexible," Lacson said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto said that balikbayans have had to spend thousands of pesos and suffer much inconvenience including several days' "quarantine" at a hotel.

Lacson cited the case of an office employee who returned from abroad earlier this year, but was told to spend six nights at a hotel where many other balikbayans were quarantined, at the cost of P10,000 per room each night.

The senator said that the employee could have been safer at home undergoing isolation.

"You can just imagine what an ordinary employee returning to the Philippines has to go through. More than the inconvenience, he or she has to spend for hotel accommodations, swab tests, and related items," he said.

Lacson pointed to the flexibility showed by the Cebu provincial government, which implemented its own rules for testing and quarantining returning Cebu residents, including allowing returning residents to go home as soon as negative results come out. 

He said these rules saved Filipinos from further inconvenience and financial burden.

Sotto pointed to the "flexible" system in the United States, citing a friend who said that when one arrives in the United States and is fully vaccinated, they can proceed. If not, they are asked if they want to be vaccinated.

On the other hand, Sotto noted that while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration would shoulder the quarantine costs of returning OFWs, OWWA funds may use contributions from OFWs.

In a separate interview aired over ANC's "Headstart," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also called for a standard proof of vaccination especially for returning workers abroad. 

He cited an anecdote from Europe where travelers, he said, are still required to undergo testing and quarantine even if they are inoculated with the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines. The two brands have not yet secured emergency use authorization in the European Union. 

"We must have a document which we can rely on to indicate vaccination, particularly for our OFWs," he said. 

"I am in favor of some internationally accepted documents which would indicate proof of vaccination because this is for public health. It is controversial but it is necessary."

— Franco Luna with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio 

IATF

OFWS

OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS

SEN. PANFILO LACSON

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