SEN. Joel Villanueva yesterday said restricting Filipinos abroad from coming home to contain the spiraling coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country is “the most inhumane act” that the government can do to its people amid the pandemic.
Villanueva, who is the chairman of the Senate committee on labor, said during yesterday’s hearing on the proposed creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos: “I don’t think banning Filipinos from coming home to their family is the solution. This is the most inhumane act we can do to our fellow Filipinos. Again, this requires using simple and tested approaches: strict quarantine requirements, effective contact tracing, and quick rollout of the vaccination program.”
The National Task Force Against COVID-19 has issued Memorandum Circular No. 5 which limits inbound arrivals to 1,500 OFWs per day and temporarily prohibits the entry of non-OFWs from March 20 to April 19.
Exempted from the ban are distressed returning overseas Filipinos, foreign diplomats or officials of foreign governments, those escorting medical repatriations and those involved in emergency or humanitarian situations.
Palace officials have said that government was compelled to temporarily suspend the inbound travel of foreigners and returning OFs to contain the peaking of COVID-19 cases, especially of new variant infections which have been detected mostly from returning Filipinos.
Villanueva urged the NTF Against COVID-19 to reconsider its decision, arguing that “every minute an overseas Filipino is stranded, their resources are also depleted to the detriment of their families back home.” “Every Filipino who had lost his job, on his last money, and had last seen his family years ago, is a kababayan in distress. They need to be brought back home because our overseas offices – undermanned and underfunded – are being overwhelmed by this growing number of stranded workers,” he also said.
He said the strict observance of health protocols and the proper conduct of contact tracing are the key factors in curbing the rising cases throughout the country.
Villanueva also said that setting a daily 1,500 cap on returning Filipinos to stop the overwhelming of government isolation facilities and to control the spread of the virus, especially new variants from other countries, is virtually an admission that the state’s response measures to the pandemic are insufficient.
He said if the government really wants to curb infections, the passenger cap should be imposed on all international entry points and not limited to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals, since returning Filipinos may just use as re-entry point airports or seaports which do not have passenger entry limits.
This was echoed by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon who said: “If this is a system of making sure that we control the entry of those who may have COVID-19, they would just choose the other airports. So, it’s also ineffective.”
Sen. Francis Tolentino said the policy seems unenforceable.
“Who would determine which airline should have a cap of 1,500 Filipinos? Which stopover should force a disembarkation of Filipinos? And which port of origin should prevent a valid ticket holder of a trip going to Manila?” Tolentino said.
“I really can’t imagine a situation when you will be forcing planes to return to their port of origin just because there are Filipinos and we have reached the 1,500 cap (for inbound passengers),” he added.
Meanwhile, on local travel, the Department of Tourism (DOT) yesterday said it has asked the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to allow persons below 15 and above 65 years old traveling from Manila to Boracay to go to and from the airport since Boracay is already under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
In a statement, the DOT also said it welcomes the approval of the saliva RTPCR test as an alternative to the nasopharyngeal swab RTPCR as one of the entry requirements to the island.
The Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF), in its March 18 meeting, approved the saliva test with the provision that it should be administered by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and other testing laboratories that have been approved and accredited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health (DOH).
The DOT expressed willingness to support funding for an RTPCR or gene expert machine as the local government unit (LGU) of Malay may propose.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it will order the immediate closure of sectors recently allowed to reopen and the scaling back of others whose capacities were earlier expanded in Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine (GCQ).
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters in a text message: “Due to rising cases, the DTI also supports scaling back of some activities that were recently reopened or expanded.”
Lopez said the DTI will issue today, March 19, a circular containing its latest directives, which he said will be in effect for the next two weeks or until Easter Sunday.
Lopez said to be closed are driving schools, traditional cinemas, gaming arcades, museums, and cultural centers. He said it would likewise reduce the number of limit social events in DOT-accredited establishments.
He added the circular will also limit to 30 percent the capacity of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions or MICE events. Also, capacity of dine-in services in restaurants and cafes, as well as personal care services, will be reduced to 50 percent from 75 percent.
The DTI’s new order will effectively amend Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 21-08 which allowed movie houses in areas under GCQ to reopen starting March 5 but only up to 25-percent capacity.
The MC also allowed the operation of libraries, archives, museums, and cultural centers as well as video and interactive game arcades, limited tourist attractions such as parks, theme parks, natural sites, and historical landmarks at 50 percent in GCQ areas.
Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco on Wednesday night placed the entire Batasang Pambansa complex under a four-day lockdown beginning yesterday to help the government stop the spread of COVID-19.
The House leader’s decision was made a day after Secretary General Mark Llandro Mendoza said there was no plan for the leadership to implement a lockdown as the number of cases at the Lower House remained “manageable.”
There are presently 33 active cases at the House, including majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez who tested positive for the virus yesterday and was experiencing symptoms.
Velasco said that in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila, he has instructed Mendoza to ensure the strict implementation of the lockdown within the House premises in Batasan Complex until March 21 “for the well-being of its members and employees.”
“We have decided to place the entire Batasan Complex on a temporary lockdown from March 18 to 21 as a precautionary measure to protect the health and safety of House members and employees in view of the alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila,” Velasco said.
Romualdez said he was scheduled to undergo a second test today to rule out a false positive result as he urged everyone who had close contact with him to have themselves tested for the virus.
“Let me assure those who are concerned with my physical well-being that I am coping well despite experiencing symptoms of the disease, and that I am in high spirits. I am presently
in isolation, and my doctor is closely monitoring my situation. I extend my deepest gratitude to those who are praying for my quick recovery,” he said in a statement.
“Rest assured that I will go back to work and perform my duties as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives as soon as I get a clean bill of health from health authorities,” added the majority leader.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on Thursday temporarily suspended its processing of different social service assistance program from March 19 to 21 to give way to the shutting down of its main office in Batasan in Quezon City which will undergo decontamination.
“The DSWD Office in Batasan, Quezon City is temporarily closed resulting in the temporary suspension of all public transactions for the day including the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation,” the DSWD said in a statement.
AICS provides financial aid for medical, funeral, transportation and support for the operations of the Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU).
In San Juan, the city government has issued a resolution prohibiting those aged 17 years old and below from leaving their homes until March 31.
In Mandaluyong city, Mayor Menchie Abalos signed a memorandum that ordered health risk individuals, such as pregnant women and persons with disabilities; minors or those 17 years old and below, and senior citizens aged 65 and above to stay home. The restriction is in effect until March 31.
The Manila Police District reported that it has apprehended more than 1,000 violators since the unified curfew hours in Metro Manila was imposed last Monday.
Data from the MPD showed that as of Thursday morning, the police have arrested 1,032 individuals, of which 930 are adults while 102 are minors. – With Irma Isip, Wendell Vigilia, Christian Oineza and Ashzel Hachero