Garcia softens stance, meets IATF halfway on swab-upon-arrival policy
CEBU CITY — Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has softened her stance after President Rodrigo Duterte publicly expressed his disgust over Cebu’s continued defiance of the policy set by the national pandemic task force.
Garcia announced on Tuesday afternoon that Cebu would follow the health protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) regarding travelers.
In a bid to meet the IATF halfway, Garcia said the swab-upon-arrival policy of the province stays for returning Filipinos from abroad including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) but only to determine who among them are already positive of the new coronavirus.
Even if they test negative in the swab tests, they will still be quarantined in a hotel for 10 days and will be swabbed on the 7th day in compliance with the IATF guidelines.
Both swab tests would be done at no costs to the returning Filipinos, she said.
Garcia also set aside her Executive Order No. 23 issued on Monday that warned agencies of criminal charges should they violate the provincial ordinance that allowed returning Filipinos to go home after two days in a quarantine hotel if tested negative upon arrival at the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA).
Garcia’s announcement made online before the scenic beachfront on Bantayan Island came a day after Duterte on Monday night sternly warned Cebu against its continuing defiance of the IATF protocols.
Duterte on Monday stood by the IATF’s quarantine policy and warned trial courts that any order to stop the IATF policy could result in a “ruckus” between the judicial branch and the executive branch.
“I will not obey the courts in the matter now of management of the pandemic,” he said during a meeting with IATF officials in Davao City.
“I do not want anybody from any government agency or department messing up with a situation which I said is being managed because it is very dangerous to the country,” he added.
Cebuano lawyers Clarence Paul Oaminal and Valentino Bacalso Jr. on Monday filed a petition in court to declare the IATF’s protocols for returning Filipinos from abroad as “ineffective and inapplicable” in Cebu, which offers a different policy.
The IATF wanted arriving Filipinos from abroad, including OFWs, to undergo quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival at the airport with a COVID-19 swab test to be conducted on the 7th day from arrival.
Garcia and the provincial board, on the other hand, earlier required OFWs and residents returning from abroad to undergo a swab test upon arrival at the MCIA and to go on hotel quarantine for a period of only two to three days.
In her public address aired through social media, Garcia said the 10-day hotel stay for returning Filipinos will be implemented, scrapping the home quarantine previously imposed in Cebu.
She thanked the President for announcing that the 10-day quarantine at a hotel will be shouldered by the government and no longer be a burden to returning nationals.
Because the returning Filipinos no longer need to pay up, Garcia said she has decided to set aside the home quarantine protocol.
“It will now lessen the burden of our OFWs and returning Filipinos,” she said.
Garcia said she was also looking forward to a meeting with IATF experts and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in Cebu on June 28 to further discuss the protocols and arrive at a win-win solution.
The Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7) also changed its stance on the matter and will now follow the directives set by the IATF.
“We are a national government agency and as such, we are bound to follow the orders of the chief executive and it’s up to the province (of Cebu) to do the swab-upon-arrival policy,” Dr. Jaime Bernadas, director of the DOH-7, said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Bernadas said they, however, would continue coordinating with the Cebu provincial government, hoping to come up with a win-win solution on the issue.
“The regional office was to work closely with the provinces and municipalities. Our job is to try and seek a win-win solution so we could work with (Cebu) province and still abide by the mandate of the President and the IATF,” he explained.
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