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Per month: Government to save P300 million with Cebu protocol
Senators Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva, and Miguel Zuburi, as well as House Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera, have “strongly supported” the province’s protocol, which has been at odds with that of the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force.

Per month: Government to save P300 million with Cebu protocol

Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (The Freeman) - June 11, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  More members of the Senate and House of Representatives are joining the circle of supporters for Cebu’s protocol of swabbing returning overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers upon arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, with one of them saying the government’s will save as much as P300 million monthly if the same is replicated nationwide.

Senators Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva, and Miguel Zuburi, as well as House Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera, have “strongly supported” the province’s protocol, which has been at odds with that of the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Sonny Angara and Ramon “Bong” Revilla have earlier expressed their support for Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy.

The policy is also backed by all seven congressmen of Cebu and Ako Bisaya Partylist Rep. Sonny Lagon.

Yesterday, Villanueva described the Cebu protocol as a “sensible, but science-based” way of screening travelers for coronavirus that is also “low-cost but highly-effective.”

“If we adopt Cebu’s shortened quarantine period as national policy, the government will be saving almost P300 million a month. Isipin na lang po natin kung gaano karaming pamilya ang makatatanggap ng ayuda mula sa halagang ito,” Villanueva said.

The savings, he explained, will primarily stem from the shorter stay of OFWs in hotels, which will lead a smaller amount to be billed to the government.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said back in March that it will use up in five months its entire year’s P6.2 billion budget to assist returning OFWs.

Villanueva said that the full board of the 10-day quarantine of OFWs in hotels is shouldered by OWWA which, on any given day, billets 10,000 OFWs in 114 hotels.

Villanueva added that the Cebu formula needs to be tested in other cities as the governement should encourage innovation, especially during this new normal, when conditions change rapidly.

‘Practical, Logical’

Herrera said the policy, as contained in an executive order and a provincial ordinance both signed by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, is “practical, logical and beneficial to the government, OFWs and ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos).”

In fact, Herrera has urged the IATF to look into the possibility of adopting the Cebu ordinance so it can be implemented on a national scale.

The partylist solon “firmly believes” the Cebu ordinance does not run counter to the overall national objective of preventing the spread of COVID-19 as testing is done upon arrival and the results are known shortly after.

For her part, Hontiveros said that the localized protocols of Cebu “demonstrate their confidence in their capacity to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

“I am certain they have taken into account their situation, as well as the plight of our OFWs, before coming up with these measures. I trust that the provincial government knows what is best for their own constituents,” she said.

Just like Herrera, Zubiri also hopes that Cebu’s protocols will be adopted in other provinces.

“I think a shortened quarantine period is a reasonable requirement for our vaccinated OFWs. Provided, of course, that they get tested for COVID-19,” Zubiri said.

He said with tests coming out quicker these days, some tests can be processed in a day or so, there’s really little reason to still require a full two-week hotel quarantine for vaccinated OFWs.

Why not declare it ultra vires?

As the debate heats up, Provincial Board Member John Ismael Borgonia has questioned why IATF did not seek to declare the provincial ordinance ultra vires, that is, beyond the PB’s powers, when such measure was passed.

“Kung naa tay na-violate nga base sa ilahang polisya sa IATF, well, ning-file na unta sila to declare as ultra vires ang atong ordinance,” Borgonia told reporters yesterday.

“And, of course, kami unta administratively liable mi if they believe nga sayop among gibuhat but ilahang gibuhat hinuon gisakripisyo ang mga Sugbuanon pinaagi sa didto gipalanding sa Manila ang (OFWs). Kami unta ilang ig-on, dili ang mga Sugbuanon,” he added.

Borgonia made the remarks after Malacañang extended the diversion of inbound international flights at MCIA to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) until June 12.

Borgonia, who authored the concerned Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, said they fully support Governor Gwendolyn Garcia's Executive Order No. 17 as it “lessens the financial burden not only of the OFWs but also of the national government.”

Under the Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, arriving OFWs and ROFs will be swabbed upon their arrival at the MCIA and will have to wait at the quarantine hotel until the results come out. If the result is negative, the OFW or ROF will be sent to his or her home with no other requirements that should be imposed by its LGU.

The provincial board is set to have a special session today to discuss measures to strengthen their ordinance for OFWs and ROFs.

Unfair for OFWs

In a related development, DOH-7 spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said it is unfair for OFWs and ROFs to be blamed for the surge in cases involving COVID-19 variants of concern as she explained that what is happening now is community transmission.

Loreche reiterated that variants happen when there is a transmission.

“It’s really unfair to blame the surges of cases to the variants of concern kasi karon man gud (it’s) community transmission already and we know variants happen when there is transmission, parehas sa atong naagian atong January, February, March. So variants will always be here, every now and then kay mao ma’y nature sa virus,” Loreche said.

The returning Filipinos, she added, should be “punished” by being in the hotels all by themselves for 10 days when they can just have a home quarantine should their swab test results be negative.

Loreche cited data showing that positivity rate among OFWs for both test upon arrival and test on the seventh day of quarantine is almost similar at about 0.03 % or less than 1%.

She said that even those samples in the national level, the positivity rate is only between 1.1 to 1.14%. — Caecent N. Magsumbol, Le Phyllis F. Antojado, Jean Aldemer Salgados, Silliman University Intern, JMD (FREEMAN)

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