Lacson to IATF: Find 'middle ground' for balikbayans, returning residents

Published June 16, 2021, 7:50 AM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Wednesday, June 16 said ‘’small adjustments’’ by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in implementing health protocols could be a big help to balikbayans and returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

This is because balikbayans have to spend thousands of pesos and suffer much inconvenience including several days’ “quarantine” at a hotel, Lacson said.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III concurred with the Lacson position.

Sotto presided over the hours-long hybrid public hearing yesterday by the Senate Committee of the Whole on the status of the government’s vaccination roll out.

“Find the middle ground. We cannot be too stiff, too stringent. May occasion dapat na flexible tayo (There are times we should be flexible),” Lacson said during the committee hearing.

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 P10,000 per room per night.

Yet, Lacson said 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.

In contrast, Lacson cited 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 – thus saving them from inconvenience and heavy financial burden.

For his part, Sotto noted the system in the United States is flexible as well. He quoted a friend who said that when one arrives in the United States and is fully vaccinated, he/she can proceed. If not, he/she is asked if he/she wants to be vaccinated.

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