IN AN apparent rebuke of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia over her testing and quarantine policy for overseas Filipino workers and returning overseas Filipinos (ROF), Malacañang ordered that all international flights bound for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) be diverted to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for eight days beginning Saturday, May 29, 2021.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also relayed President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to enforce the testing and quarantine protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in all ports of entry nationwide.
These directives are contained in a memorandum that Medialdea issued on Thursday, May 27, two days after Garcia revealed plans by some national officials to charge her for allegedly defying the IATF protocols.
Based on the memorandum, all international flights scheduled to land in MCIA beginning 12:01 a.m. of May 29 until 11:59 p.m. of June 5, 2021 will be redirected to the NAIA.
The Department of Transportation and its attached agencies as well as the Manila International Airport Authority were ordered to ensure the smooth diversion of these flights.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, meanwhile, was tasked to enforce compliance among LGUs to the IATF protocols.
The protocols apply to all inbound international travelers in all ports of entry, “regardless of any specific protocols that may be issued by local government units (LGU) to the contrary,” the memorandum read.
Medialdea stated that these new directives were recommended by the IATF in Resolution 116-A “in pursuit of the national interest in preventing the further spread of Covid-19.”
These, however, also marked the escalation of a conflict between the national government and Cebu Province over testing and quarantine rules.
Based on IATF Resolution 114, all inbound international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, are required to go into quarantine for 14 days and undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for Sars-CoV-2 on the seventh day.
Regardless of a negative test result, the traveler must stay in a quarantine facility for 10 days and spend the remaining four days under home quarantine.
In Cebu, however, returning Filipinos get swabbed immediately upon arrival.
They then go into quarantine at an accredited hotel while waiting for the test result, and are allowed to go home if the test comes out negative.
Test results are released within a few hours or three days, at most.
Garcia explained on Tuesday, May 25, that she was not defying the IATF protocols.
“On the seventh day, a swab test may again be conducted based on the new testing policy. In this way, travelers even undergo double swabbing,” she had said.
She described the IATF protocols as “bug-at ra kaayo (too restrictive).”
She had argued that most of the returning Filipinos, especially the overseas contract workers, go home because of urgent matters such as the death of a family member.
Swabbing upon arrival is also the safest, she added, since this would immediately determine who among the travelers have contracted the virus.
The IATF’s testing and quarantine protocols were updated on May 6 as part of measures to guard against the entry of the highly transmissible variants of Sars-CoV-2, including the B.1.617 that was first detected in India.
Edilyth Maribojoc of the corporate affairs office of MCIA terminal operator GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. said they will abide by the Malacañang directive.
“We’re still coordinating with the different government agencies and regulators as the airport operator. We will follow directives from the government as mandated,” she said.
International flight frequencies and passenger volumes at the MCIA have dwindled to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels.
From January to April 2021, the MCIA Authority website recorded only 396 incoming international flights, an 85 percent dive from the 2,737 incoming international flights in the same period of 2020.
In April 2021 alone, there were 113 incoming international flights and 92 outgoing flights at the MCIA. Officials earlier said the number of international arrivals is well within the 1,500 daily limit set by the government. (MVI with JOB)