By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal assured on Monday that the country has enough facilities and equipment to accommodate the hundreds of Filipinos who will be returning to the country until June.
Inbound international charter and commercial flights have been allowed to land in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at assigned dates, starting Monday, May 11, until June 10.
Airport authorities set the cap for arriving Filipinos at 400 passengers per day.
Speaking over teleconference at the Senate Committee on Public Services’ hybrid hearing, Monreal said all the repatriates, upon arrival, would have to be screened, tested for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based test kits, and undergo mandatory quarantine while waiting for tests results.
“‘Pag nag-negative po sila (If they tested negative) after the PCR test, they will be allowed to go home,” he said.
Senators, however, expressed concern that such an effort will not be viable, considering the number of passengers who will be flying to the country every day.
“Nako, parang hindi yata kaya (Oh my, I don’t think it is feasible). I mean, it doesn’t look like this is something that we can sustain in, even just a couple of weeks. Where will you put the 400 people every day?” Poe, who presided the hearing at the session hall, asked.
“And a swab test [result] will take at least two to three days. If at all, the general population, we only test how many thousands… Now, we will have to test the 400 incoming ones as a priority as opposed to testing our citizens because we only have so much capability when it comes to processing those test. Parang hindi masyadong pinag-isipan ito bago natin pinayagan ang flights (This doesn’t seem to be well thought out before we allowed the flights),” Poe stressed, adding that she was “worried” about the plan.
Sen. Francis Tolentino also echoed Poe’s concern, “If there will be 10 flights, that will be 4,000 passengers. So saan quarantine [facility] niyo ilalagay ‘yon (which quarantine facility will you place them) and that would be daily. Lolobo talaga ‘yon (Their numbers will balloon),” Tolentino said. “Administratively, baka mahirapan po tayo doon (it would be difficult).”
In response, Monreal explained that government temporarily suspended the arrivals from May 3 to May 10 for this reason.
“Para po makahinga nang konti ‘yong quarantine facilities natin na mabigyan ng daan, kasi yong iba po hindi pa nakakauwi dahil may issues sa pagpapapunta, kahit tapos na ‘yong quarantine nila (So we could decongest our quarantine facilities and allow our overseas Filipino workers to settle issues in going home, since their mandatory quarantine have ended),” said the MIAA chief.
Prior to the suspension, Monreal said an average of 2,000 Filipinos arrive in NAIA daily.
It was the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID), in coordination with airline companies, which authorized the 400-passengers-per-day cap.
Pressed by Senator Francis Pangilinan on whether government agencies are prepared to accommodate the incoming Filipinos, Monreal said quarantine facilities are “already in place.”
The senators asked for information on the number of Filipino repatriates currently staying in quarantine facilities established by the government, and further details on its plans for those arriving in the coming days.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, for his part, expressed support for the government’s move to welcome Filipinos in the country.
“I am not against allowing the Filipinos to come home. In fact, I think we should be able to prioritize that,” Recto said.