Senators question ‘ineffective’ 1,500-cap on inbound travelers to PH
MANILA, Philippines — Some senators have questioned what one of them called an “ineffective” 1,500-cap on international arrivals in the country with the imposition of a temporary ban on the entry of travelers except for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
During the Senate labor committee hearing on Thursday, Senator Joel Villanueva criticized the seemingly confusing policy of the government regarding a 1,500-limit on inbound travelers.
He cited separate directives from the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).
“The NTF announced the temporary suspension of travel to the Philippines… It also places a cap on inbound passenger arrivals to 1,500 a day,” committee chair Villanueva said.
On Tuesday, NTF announced the temporary ban on the entry of travelers, whether foreigners or Filipinos, from abroad — except returning OFWs – starting March 20.
Villanueva then pointed to a CAB advisory on March 15 stating that a 1,500-cap will be imposed on inbound passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) only.
“Ang daming nalilito, ano ba talaga ang polisiya dito? [Many are confused, what really is our policy on this?] Which is which?” the senator asked.
In response, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos noted that the 1,500-cap will only cover Naia as other airports, like the Mactan International Airport and the Clark International Airport, have previously set their own limit on passengers arriving in the country.
“There are existing caps in other airports. For example, I was told just this morning that there is a 1,500 cap for Clark and another cap for Cebu for that matter. The controls in terms of inbound passengers are currently existing in all gateways. So this one is only for Naia,” Fos explained.
Still, Villanueva questioned the basis for the limit and how the curb of 1,500 passengers was arrived at.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Leo Cacdac told the committee that the NTF and Department of Transportation (DOTr) could better explain the basis for the cap.
He, however, said the reason for the cap was “mainly health-based.”
“As far as we know, the reasons are mainly health-based. This could be clearly gleaned from the memorandum of our chair of the NTF, [Defense] Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana, citing instances based on the data from the [Department of Health] with regard to rising incidents of Covid cases coming from abroad,” the OWWA official said.
“The basis for this is the historical arrival data. The CAB and the DOTr are the most knowledgeable in terms of the inflow of passengers through Naia,” he also noted.
But Villanueva said the cap still does not make sense to him. He pointed out that an OFW who wants to go home can just opt to return to the Philippines through another airport instead of Naia.
“Makakauwi pa rin ako. So what’s the point? I just don’t get it,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon agreed with Villanueva.
“[It’s been] 365 days after Covid came to us, our policies are still confusing, the validity and the basis for the 1,500-cap are not clear. That is why people tend not to follow directives because hindi po naintindihan [they would not understand],” Drilon said.
“Bakit 1,500, how is that figure arrived at? If this is a system of making sure that we control the entry of those who may have Covid, they [can] just choose the other airport, you have Cebu, Clark. So it’s also ineffective,” he added.
Likewise sharing his colleagues’ observation, Senator Francis Tolentino branded the inbound travel cap as “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? And which port of origin should prevent a valid ticket holder of a trip going to Manila?” he said.
“I really can’t imagine a situation when you will be forcing planes to return to their port of origin just because there are Filipinos and we have reached the 1,500-cap (for inbound passengers),” Tolentino added, saying NTF should consider revisiting the policy.