Some senators hit out at the new policy of the Philippine government for setting a 1,500-limit on inbound arrivals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The country has also suspended the entry of returning non-overseas Filipinos and foreigners from March 20 until April 19 amid the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.
At a Senate hearing on Thursday, senators grilled the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on the month-long travel restrictions, saying it would only exacerbate the hardship of many overseas Filipinos who wanted to return home, especially those who lost their jobs.
“OWWA, kayo ho ba… did you recommend this particular advisory na i-cap natin sa 1,500? Because if you are recommending na wag nating pauwiin yung ating mga kababayan sa bayan nila, parang hindi ho yata maganda,” asked Sen. Joel Villanueva, who is also the chair of the Senate labor committee.
“Parang inaamin din ho natin na not working yung quarantine program natin, yung testing na ginagawa natin, yung contact tracing natin. Is that an admission?” he asked OWWA.
OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said, “Yes, we took part in the meeting that had established the current imposed inbound travel ban. The reasons are mainly health-based; this could be clearly gleamed from the memorandum of our chair, [Chair of the National Task Force Against COVID-19], Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, with regard to the number of COVID-19 cases coming from abroad. But the 1,500 cap is based on historical, scientific data.”
Villanueva along with minority leader Sen. Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Tolentino believed that the new policy was ineffective and confusing as some OFWs may opt to return to the Philippines through other airports.
Tolentino called the inbound travel cap “unenforceable”.
“I foresee the unenforceability. Who will determine which airline should have a cap of 1,500 Filipinos? Which stopover should force the disembarkation of Filipinos?” he said, adding that NTF should recalibrate its policy.
For his part, Drilon said the reasons behind the 1,500 were not clearly established. “Bakit 1,500, how is that figure arrived at? As you said, Mr. Chair, if this is a system of making sure that we control the entry of those who may have COVID, they just choose the other airport, you have Cebu, Clark. Wala rin. So it’s also ineffective.”
“What I suspect is that this policy is dictated by the exposure of OWWA to more expenses. We’ve just heard from Administrator Cacdac that 11,000 was the volume of the peak of [retuning OFWs] in April last year. Today, [government quarantine facilities for OFWs] are approaching the same number,” he added.
Cacdac invoked the memorandum from NTF, saying it was the basis of the imposition of travel imposition.
Villanueva later said in a statement that the set limit to inbound passengers is not viable: “Every Filipino who had lost his job, on his last money, and had last seen his family years ago, is a kababayan in distress. Huwag po natin antaying magkalkal sila ng mga basura para makakain o mamalimos sa tabi-tabi,” said.
“They need to be brought back home because our overseas offices–undermanned and underfunded–are being overwhelmed by this growing number of stranded workers,” he continued.
“Huwag na po natin paramihin ang OFWs – Overseas Filipinos Waiting for a flight home. Kung ano man ang naipundar o naitabi nilang pera, unti-unti itong maglalaho sa bawat minutong hindi sila makauwi ng Pilipinas.”