Like being mulcted at the airport: The nightmare of returning to PH | Inquirer News
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Like being mulcted at the airport: The nightmare of returning to PH

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 05:25 PM August 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Social media is teeming with complaints from Filipinos coming home only to go through a gauntlet of steps at the airport that commonly lead to two results—exasperation and anger.

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While health protocols are understandable because the Philippines is far from making substantial progress in defeating COVID-19, the simple process of entry and exit at the Philippines’ main gateway—Ninoy Aquino International Airport—has become an ordeal for many travelers.

Common complaints revolve around money, or payments for COVID tests and land transfers that leave countless travelers feeling they’ve just fallen victims to mulcting.

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A scan of the many complaints showed that the hassles had become routine and not isolated cases.

Arrival nightmares

In June, INQUIRER.net published an article detailing the travel woes of an anonymous social media user, supposedly a balikbayan from the United States, who posted what was described as an upsetting experience at the airport.

READ: Traveling to PH: A clash of convenience, health rules at airports  

Among the complaints was testing procedures at the airport which needed to be done on the seventh day of the traveler’s quarantine, a government requirement.

“Then we had to go down and be ushered in to the airport room where THEY MADE SURE that we PRE-PAY the SWAB test to be conducted on the 7th day!” the complaining passenger wrote.

The social media user also protested the high costs of land transfers from the airport.

“Since we are on quarantine, we cannot take outside transpo…So, we asked a hotel for a sedan or equiv transpo, the cheapest of which cost P2,200. A van costs P3,500.” wrote the passenger.

“They contracted ALL TRANSFERS to an outside company or companies..not from d hotel!”

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Another anonymous traveler who recently arrived shared the same nightmarish experience at the airport.

“Son of a bitch. As soon as we landed, there was already a holdup. P3,500 for the [RT-PCR test],” the anonymous passenger told INQUIRER.net.

He also narrated how passengers are almost being extorted into paying for shuttle services at the airport.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

“First they will offer a private shuttle worth P1,900 so you can be alone [in the vehicle],” the traveler wrote in a message to INQUIRER.net.

“When I asked for other options, I was told that there was a coupon taxi with fixed pay but they have no idea whether it will be fixed price or metered,” he added.

According to the traveler, he was told that he can also travel alone in a coupon taxi.

When he chose to ride the taxi, he was asked to pay P530 and a tip for the dispatcher.

“When I entered the taxi, the dispatcher whispered to me if I can give him spare change for coffee. I gave the dispatcher a mug.”

Procedures upon arriving

According to DFA, returning Philippine nationals, who are not OFWs, and foreigners must heed these procedures:

Before the flight or trip

  • Passengers are required to accomplish E-CIF before leaving point of origin for a unique QR Code which will be presented to the One Stop Shop (OSS) upon arrival in the Philippines. Terminal 2 PAL passengers can access the E-CIF form through this link (https://bit.ly/MNLPALeCIF) Passengers of foreign airlines passing through Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 can get the E-CIF here (www.padlab.ph/DLS/PassengerCIF)
  • The DFA also reminds passengers to pre-book at any quarantine hotel accredited by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) at least seven days before their arrival date.
  • Non-OFWs and foreign nationals must also prepare fees for RT-PCR testing and cash for transportation expenses.

Upon arriving at the airport

  • Upon arrival, passengers must submit their accomplished Health Declaration Form to the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).
  • They will then proceed to the area where the Philippine Coast Guard (PSG) will brief them on quarantine protocols.
  • The Affidavit of Undertaking will also be distributed there.
  • Passengers will next go to the Department of Tourism (DOT) desk to help validate their quarantine hotel facility assignment or accommodation.
  • From there, they will transfer to the private laboratory desk where their data will be processed and where they will be asked to pay for the RT-PCR testing.
  • The passengers will then proceed to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for clearance and passport checks.
  • After complying with all of the steps above, they can finally claim their luggage.
  • Before leaving the airport, passengers must submit their accomplished Affidavit of Undertaking to the PCG.
  • Passengers can ride an airport taxi to bring them to their chosen quarantine facility.

During quarantine period

  • The DFA suggested that passengers “plan, consider, and prepare” for other requirements while they are on quarantine.
  • Passengers must also prepare airline or bus ticket for their next destination.
  • Passengers must also secure a letter of acceptance from their local government unit (LGU).
  • They must also secure a travel pass from any Philippine National Police (PNP) office at the point of departure.
  • On the seventh day, passengers must take the RT-PCR test at the quarantine facility. Strict quarantine protocols must be continuously observed while waiting for test results.
  • Upon receipt of negative RT-PCR results via e-mail, passengers must wait for the BOQ health certificate.
  • To check out of the quarantine facility, passengers must present their negative test results and the health certificate from BOQ.
  • The DFA also advised passengers not to loiter around and expose themselves to coronavirus after checking out of the quarantine facility.

“Your delay in reporting to your LGU can be a ground for imposition of another 14 days quarantine. Always observe health protocols during your travel,” the DFA said in its advisory for travelers.

The department also suggested that travelers complete the 14-day quarantine period in their final destination.

According to the website Zenrooms.com, stays at hotels accredited as quarantine facilities would cost the passenger a range of rates per night—P1,200/P2,010/P2,100/P2,179/P2,500/P3,100.

So the cost for a traveler to quarantine at a hotel could translate from a minimum of P8,400 to a maximum of P21,700 for seven days.

On swab test and transportation

In a statement, the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) under the Department of Transportation (DOTr) addressed the concerns of the two anonymous travelers who shared their ordeal at the airport.

According to Transportation Undersecretary Raul del Rosario, OTS administrator and head of the One-Stop-Shop (OSS) at airports for Filipinos returning from abroad, the mandatory RT-PCR test worth P4,000 must be paid online and in advance by passengers.

“Only non-OFWs who have not paid online are being assisted by the OSS on arrival at NAIA and being asked to pay the amount due for their RT-PCR test,” Del Rosario said.

Passengers who failed to pre-pay the test can still pay it upon arriving in by cash using Philippine pesos or US dollars, by credit or debit cards or by digital payment platforms like PayPal, GCash and others.

According to guidelines released by the DFA, non-OFWs and foreign nationals need to pay for RT-PCR testing at the traveler’s chosen quarantine hotel.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) said only passengers in those categories are required to pay for the tests.

“The test is free for OFWs, whether they arrive in Manila, Cebu, or Clark, or Laoag,” the airline company said.

Prior to departure from point of origin, passengers should fill up the E-CIF (Electronic Case Investigation Form), which is required by health protocols.

According to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), this form is important “to minimize the spread of COVID-19 into the Philippines through our ports of entry. It also ensures that anyone arriving into the country will be tested for COVID-19.”

PRC suggested accomplishing the E-CIF at least three days prior to arrival in the Philippines. Those who fail to fill out the form will be barred from passing through immigration, PRC said.

Non-OFWs and foreign nationals can get the E-CIF provided by PAL.

Regarding complaints about shuttle services, Del Rosario advised the public to ride only in vehicles authorized and accredited by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), like hotel shuttles and airport taxis, to bring them to their quarantine facilities.

He said this rule would help ensure passenger safety and prevent cases of returning Filipinos escaping from their quarantine facilities or skipping quarantine procedures.

“Unknown to many, there are many reports of ROF who tried to escape riding private vehicles or those who conspire with taxi drivers who are not authorized by the OSS to operate in NAIA,” Del Rosario said. ROF refers to returning overseas Filipinos.

“We have never allowed these transport services to abuse ROF by charging fees in excess of what the government has fixed,” he said in his statement in Filipino.

For inquiries, complaints, and feedback, passengers can call the OTS hotline at 0919-999-687(OTS) or they may reach out to Transport Security Operation Center (TSRMS) at 0915-315-5377 or 0923-371-5207.

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