Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion is batting for relaxed quarantine protocols for Filipinos visitors originating from North America.
Concepcion recently organized a meeting wherein several solutions were put forward to address the difficulty faced by arriving international passengers, specifically those coming from North America, which include the United States (US) and Canada.
Among these solutions are the frontloading of the testing process prior to the arrival of passengers in the country and expanding international gateways to ease the load off the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals.
The meeting included Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Art Tugade, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez, experts Prof. Ranjit Rye and Fr. Nick Austriaco from OCTA Research, and representatives and officials from local airlines. These included the country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL).
“I think it is important that we try to bring our Balikbayans home, many are desperate to see their families," Concepcion said.
"NCR’s (National Capital Region's) vaccination rate is almost 80 percent and in terms of reciprocity, the US have been very welcoming to the Philippines, allowing only a negative RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test and proof of vaccination status as travel requirements. We need to extend the same privilege to America,” he noted.
OCTA Research fellow Austriaco presented data showing that new infections in the Philippines cannot be attributed to international arriving passengers. According to him, homegrown transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the country today, with arriving international passengers accounting for only 1.8 cases of the average 6,000 new cases.
The data was sourced from PAL, which has been tracking positivity rates among its inbound international passengers. Positivity rates among inbound passengers from North America have been relatively low, with 90 percent of the passengers coming from the region already vaccinated.
“We are receiving inquiries from a lot of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans on when they will be allowed to go home with less restrictions. The embassy is willing to support in the authentication of vaccination records for arriving passengers,” Romualdez said. He also noted that 90 percent of US-based Filipinos have been vaccinated.
The envoy revealed that a Boston-based company has offered to pilot-test a PCR testing technology, which can conduct pool testing among passengers and have the results available upon their arrival in the country. This is seen to ease the waiting time of passengers at NAIA.
Locsin agreed that frontloading the testing process can help reduce the queues that are being experienced by arriving passengers.
He highlighted that government's actions have always been based on science and the welfare of Filipinos affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We can consider the compelling reason mentioned which is “reciprocity,” Locsin added.
Tugade, for his part, said that it is important to ensure the comfort of passengers with the expected increase of arrivals this holiday season.
He added that he is open to adding more gateways for international passengers, such as Clark, Cebu, etc., in order to address the bottlenecks at NAIA.
OCTA Research, which recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with Go Negosyo, has offered to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives to help refine the process as it is being implemented.
Concepcion said that easing the process for returning Filipinos would lead to a trickle down effect of economic benefits to many struggling micro, small and mediun enterprises.
"We need to help them cross 2022 with hope,” Concepcion stressed.