BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia and Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Lacson said they should be given a say on the repatriation trips especially on imposing health protocols for returning OFWs.
The mayor, in a letter to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said he and Lacson were surprised when they learned of the arrival of a “boatload of OFWs” set tomorrow — 44 bound for different towns and cities in the province, and 58 bound for Bacolod. Their repatriation, the letter to Nograles said, was authorized by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Chief Implementer for COVID-19 National Action Plan.
“This news has considerably messed up the City’s own coordination with the OWWA on the scheduling of repatriation trips for Bacolod OFWs. We thought the OWWA was the proper agency to work with. Now, we do not know if the batch of Bacolod OFWs that OWWA is ready to process is the same or different from those supposedly arriving on April 27 and thereafter,” Leonardia added.
In his letter, the mayor — and by extension the governor — sought for a prior coordination by IATF national on repatriation.
The province and Bacolod City “shall be given the chance to first agree on how many of these OFWs it can accept at any point in time before any land, sea or air transport is arranged for them by government authorities in Manila” as this is the current practice.
Negros Occidental and Bacolod should also have the right to impose their own health protocols on returning OFWs as they arrive in “regardless of previous health protocols that they may have already gone through before taking the final leg of their journey home”.
“These returning OFWs need to give their prior conformity to these local health protocols first before they will be approved by Manila authorities to become part of the batch for any scheduled trip home,” the letter added.
The mayor also brought up the matter of “space availability” since quarantine centers here might not accommodate all the returning workers, and the fact that the province and the city have no capability for mass testing, especially a DOH biolaboratory to supplement the testing capacity of the lone biolab for Region 6 in Iloilo City.
That could be the reason why there are low incidents of COVID-19 in the province, the mayor said.
“Testing was done only on those classified by our health authorities as “Most-at-Risk”, e.g. family members of COVID-positive patients, medical and emergency response personnel who are taking care of them, those revealed through contact-tracing, etc. The possibility then of these OFWs increasing the population of infected people cannot be cavalierly dismissed,” the mayor added.
These considerations also complicate the lack of quarantine areas for both province and the city, especially if home quarantine is ruled out.
“This is so because both our LGUs had already mutually agreed that any arriving OFW shall undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine at our government-managed facilities and a round of RT-PCR swab tests as minimum health protocols, even if these OFWs may have already completed these procedures somewhere else before arriving within our territorial jurisdictions,” the mayor added.
He cited the need for more stringent protocols, citing as example the case with stranded passengers in Cebu when a group of OFWs were allowed passage home last 14 April after undergoing DOH protocols. It turned out later that two of the 35 in the batch tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the province’s Patients 3 and 4.
“[B]oth Governor Lacson and I would prefer to err on the side of caution. The possibility of infection in the interim period or during transit after health clearances have been issued cannot be discounted. Thus, we have agreed that we cannot allow home quarantine as an option because of its inherent danger to the OFWs’ own families and the general community,” he said, adding that it would be an “arduous task” to track their movements daily.