By Khriscielle Yalao
Two returning overseas Filipinos were unable to attend the wake of their mother-in-law in La Union on Jan. 10 due to an extended quarantine period brought about by delayed RT PCR test results.
Filipino-American couple Caesar Leynes and Gemma Laigo Leynes returned to the Philippines, along with their sister-in-law Chuchi Laigo Bumatay on Jan. 1.
Leynes said they booked in a five-star hotel to serve as their quarantine facility as soon as they arrived in the country.
He recalled that they started to develop coughs on the second day of quarantine, which they believe they got from the unsanitary state of the facility, saying the room was unsanitized, had dust on the floor, and mold on the walls and shower head.
They were swabbed for an RT PCR test on the fifth day of quarantine.
In less than 24 hours, only the negative test results of Bumatay arrived through her email.
Leynes said they contacted the testing laboratory to inquire about their results, but the receptionist, the officer-in-charge, and the head of the laboratory said they are not allowed to release the RT PCR test results, and that the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) will coordinate with them.
However, Leynes said that the BOQ told him that the test results were the responsibility of the testing laboratory.
Three days after their swab test, the BOQ emailed the couple, saying they were positive for COVID-19 but did not include a detailed report of the result.
“Questionable parin sa aming mag-asawa. Ano ang basis nila na kami ay positibo? Paano po nila na-determine kung wala naman po silang kopya na binigay sa amin? (The result is still questionable to me and my wife. What was their basis for the positive result? How did they determine that if they didn’t give us a copy of the results?),” Leynes said.
According to Leynes, they were misinformed by the hotel management who told them that they can be released, provided that they present a negative RT PCR test result from any accredited private testing laboratory.
They took a second RT PCR test from a different testing laboratory, which yielded negative results and was received in just less than 24 hours.
However, the results were not accepted by the BOQ because it was not conducted by the initial testing laboratory.
On Jan. 9, the couple were transferred to a quarantine facility in Nasugbu, Batangas where Leynes observed the rooms were also not thoroughly cleaned.
He said he met other guests who also had dirty rooms in their respective quarantine hotels and were not given the detailed results of their positive RT PCR tests.
Leynes shared pictures and videos of his quarantine experience on Facebook, which also caught the attention of former Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWS) Judy Taguiwalo.
As of Jan. 20, the couple still had not received detailed PDF copies of their “positive” RT PCR test results from the testing laboratory or the BOQ.
The couple completed their 15-day quarantine period and were cleared for release by the BOQ on Sunday, Jan. 16.
As of writing, the couple were staying in a private hotel in Batangas recovering from their coughs and are scheduled to take an antigen test on Friday for their flight back to the US on Saturday, Jan. 22.
Leynes said he plans to pursue a legal action along with many other non-OFWs against the quarantine and testing establishments.
The negligence of quarantine facilities in maintaining the cleanliness of their rooms and lack of transparency in RT PCR test results need immediate government intervention and investigation, he added.
Leynes also appealed to the BOQ and Department of Health (DOH) to expand the options for accredited testing laboratories in the One Health Pass (OHP) online system, particularly for returning overseas Filipinos, to make the OHP system more user-friendly, and to provide RT PCR test results within 24 hours of the swab test.
He also urged the DOH and the Department of Tourism (DOT) to regularly inspect the quarantine facilities they accredit to ensure they are compliant to the health and safety standards, and are knowledgeable of the quarantine rules and regulations to prevent misinformation.
Given they spent more money due to the quarantine extension, Leynes also suggested that non-OFWs who may be financially burdened by quarantine fees may be given financial assistance such as aid in payments for hotel fees.
“Kung ito po ay mai-address po ninyo in the soonest possible time, marami po tayong mga Pilipino na gusto pa rin po bumisita, dumalaw, at mag-aya pa po ng ibang mga kaibigan sa ibang bansa na magbakasyon sa Pilipinas. Subalit, kahit naman po pandemic, kung may maganda tayong sistema ay hindi po sila ma-di-discourage. Otherwise, mababawasan po ang kita ng Pilipinas pagdating po sa pagtulong sa ating mga mamamayan (If these problems can be addressed as soon as possible, there are many Filipinos who still want to visit and invite friends from other countries to spend their vacations in the Philippines. Even if there is a pandemic, if the system is efficient, they wouldn’t be discouraged from entering the country. Otherwise the revenue the country receives from OFWs to help our nation will decline,” Leynes said.
Manila Bulletin tried to get the side of BOQ but has yet to reply as of posting.