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Seafarer groups urge IATF to revisit airport arrival protocols

CEBU CITY – Several seafarer groups have urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) to revisit their policies governing returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

This, as they expressed their support to the swab-upon-arrival policy implemented by the Cebu provincial government on ROFs and OFWs.

The Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines (ISP), Mariners’ and Allied Transport Employees Union (MATEU), Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SONAME), and ANGKLA Partylist have formally expressed their call in a letter to the IATF-EID, chaired by Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III and disclosed to the media here on Wednesday.

The groups — represented by ANGKLA Partylist chairman, former Rep. Jesulito Manalo, vice chairman Capt. Ronaldo Enrile, ISP president Capt. Gaudencio Morales, MATEU president, Lawyer Manuel Collado, and SONAME president Engr. Samuel Lim — have appealed for the adoption of Executive Order No. 17 Series of 2021 issued by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on March 31, 2021 to implement the arrival swab rule.

They pointed out that Cebu’s swab policy “is more practical and responsive to the needs of the times.”

Garcia’s order mandates that all OFWs or ROFs arriving in Cebu from abroad be tested for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) upon their arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

While waiting for the results, OFWs and ROFs are to stay in accredited hotels for a period of only two to three days.

If they test negative, they are then allowed to go to their houses where they can continue their quarantine. On the seventh day, a swab test would again be conducted in compliance with the IATF directive.

The current national policy, on the other hand, mandates a 10-day quarantine and swabbing on the seventh day from arrival.

Garcia’s order was later adopted into a local law through Provincial Ordinance No. 2021-04.

The groups further pointed out that the Cebu policy eases the heavy burdens of returning seafarers, who comprise 25 percent of the global maritime workforce and are recognized as essential workers by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“Our returning seafarers had already been out on the sea for an extended period of time, even way beyond the expiration of their employment contracts. This is due to the limited capacity to transfer them from their ships to their home countries,” the groups said.

With that, they pointed out, mandating them to undergo the 10-day facility-based quarantine upon arrival “places them in a more difficult situation as opposed to when they are immediately tested upon arrival allowing them to go home to their families at once upon a negative result.”

They cited that Cebu’s swab and quarantine rules are “more attuned with acceptable protocols that health organizations throughout the world adhere to.”

They also backed the call of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu Chapter to “reconcile and harmonize the policies, rules, regulations, and procedures as regards arriving OFWs and ROFs” by adopting Garcia’s swab policy.

“Our returning seafarers are already subjected to strict tests in the respective countries where they come from before they are sent to the Philippines. They are closely monitored, and their body temperatures are recorded every day while onboard the vessels. Proper health protocols are also strictly observed and implemented while in ports to prevent the transfer of the dreaded Covid-19 virus,” the groups said in their letter.

The IATF protocols, they said, impose unnecessary burdens and prejudice to returning seafarers. (PNA)

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