BEYOND SIGHT: Milking inbound passengers

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By Monsi A. Serrano

As early as June 2020, I’ve been hearing the horrors experienced by OFWs who were milked of their cash by unscrupulous relatives of some people in government. Seafarers stranded in Manila Bay, for instance, were sold fresh eggs at $1 apiece by ship chandlers who were close to the powers that be. For those who arrived at the airport, buses were waiting but also charging exorbitant fares to the drop-off point.

Government keeps talking about assisting returning overseas Filipinos, but in these dire situations like hunger and need for transport, our so-called “Bagong Bayani” are forced to cough up the few precious greenbacks left in their pockets.

Last April 30, my friend came home with two negative test results from the USA as it was a requirement for those transiting in Taiwan. She is fully vaccinated and the PCR tests she had in the US were done to ensure that she had proper health clearance for vacation. She stayed at one of the assigned quarantine hotels in Ortigas Center while waiting for the result of her mandatory test upon arrival.

On the fifth day of her self-quarantine as required by the government of Duterte, the Red Cross revealed the result of her test and she was positive despite the fact that she has completed her vaccination and was not experiencing any symptoms at all.  She was scheduled to be moved in one of the government quarantine facilities but her family in the US and her relatives here in the Philippines did not want her to be “treated” with other COVID-19 patients.

Then she asked my help if I can do something to move her to a safer quarantine facility for her fear that she might be contaminated with other COVID-19 patients in the government facility. I understood the fear of her family in the US, so I sought the help of Senator Dick Gordon and, in less than two minutes, I got a call from Vanessa Lee Calixto and Ging Sanchez of the Philippine Red Cross who facilitated my friend’s quarantine treatment in one of the accredited hotels in Quezon City under the supervision of the PRC.

I have nothing against the quarantine and mandatory test being implemented by the government as we all need to be protected from possible carriers of new variants from overseas. However, the “apodictic rule” created by the best and the brightest of the DOH-IATF tandem has no scientific foundation and seem anchored only on monetary consideration. It’s all about money making, nothing more, nothing less especially on their “across the board” implementation of this quarantine accommodation even for fully vaccinated and negative PCR test-bearing inbound passengers.

Last June 8, I attended the virtual presser of BAKUNA NOW NA launch and my question was, “With the ongoing mandatory quarantine from arriving passengers in the Philippines despite being fully vaccinated and have negative PCR result, will this not turn off foreigners and tourists to come here?”

The answer from Dr. Beverly Ho from the Department of Health, “The government doesn’t have a system to verify the authenticity of these clearances or results.”

To my mind, it is so simple. Tap the brilliant people in DICT, DOST and DFA. Furthermore, in the absence of the system (but present money-making system), then the government can adopt the “risk-based assessment procedure.”

Meaning, if the passengers and their results come from strong certification countries like the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea and EU countries, these countries have truly conducted the vaccines and PCR test of the passengers and assured that they are compliant. They are pre-cleared already by their health authorities and also by their governments in the embarkation countries. Then why do they have to undergo mandatory quarantine and PCR test again?

Not so hospitable welcoming

With the mandatory hotel quarantine for returning residents, OFWs and foreign nationals despite being fully vaccinated abroad and having negative PCR test leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Why must they be obliged to stay at a hotel? Why not have them home quarantined, instead?

The already over financially-and-emotionally-burdened people are mercilessly and insidiously being treated as an ATM machine by this government. They use favored accredited laboratory companies that can operate in the airport at a way above the market price of COVID-19 testing. You’ve no choice but to take it because you can’t leave without it.

Mind you, they want you to avail of the RTPCR test and not the antigen test which is cheaper. The RTPCR test costs P4,500 per person. With minimum of P6,000 per day conservatively, the hotels in the Philippines give a minimum of 10% commission to the “agent,” and apparently the government or their appointed relative agent gets the commission. Now do the Math and ask yourself, who financially benefits from this?

I always believe in the #Filipinnovation. If the reasoning of DOH is that we don’t have a system yet that was developed to validate the records of vaccinated incoming passengers, then don’t throw the monkey on the back of many returning residents, foreigners and OFWs. Do something, anything to ease up the burden of these people.

This administration has wasted so much effort done by the Filipino people with malasakit. What happened to the mothballed COVID-19 testing kits done by our Filipino scientists? How about the contact tracing done by the DOST? Why insist on using the StaySafe contact tracing app, when no less than Contact Tracing Czar Benjamin Magalong said in the congressional inquiry last March 30 that given the fact that the tracing does not go beyond the household of COVID-19 cases, “Technically, there is no contact tracing there?”

Are we really heading towards salvation or damnation with the way things are going now given the palpable lucrative business in the name of pandemic quarantines?

Truly, Plato is right when he said, “Much more wretched than lack of health in the body, it is to dwell with a soul that is not healthy, but corrupt.”