Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer /January 05, 2021
Yet another embarrassing gaffe by officials in charge of facilitating the quarantine of passengers arriving in the country happened when more than 100 Filipino and foreign passengers who arrived from the United States and South Korea on Dec. 29 were brought to a hotel where they were to spend their 14-day quarantine. The hotel was “dilapidated’’ and had filthy facilities, complained the passengers. “We are not quarantined, we are hostaged,’’ Fr. Alberic Lazerna, one of the passengers, told ABS-CBN.
By his and his fellow passengers’ accounts, the Canyon Woods hotel in Lemery, Batangas, had no running water, no internet provisions, rooms with moldy ceilings, and slimy bathrooms. The group to be quarantined included many foreigners, as well as children and an old man on a wheelchair.
Judy Sanchez, a balikbayan from the United States, said in the ABS-CBN report that the hotel looked like an abandoned building in Chernobyl, site of the nuclear accident that occurred in 1986 in Ukraine.
“Our room has no running water. The drainage is not working. Our bathroom is slimy, it’s like it was not being cleaned at all,’’ recounted Sanchez.
Worse, Lazerna said they were given just one food pack—consisting of rice, hotdog, and egg for breakfast. “It’s so sad we are showing the Philippines this way. This is unacceptable. This is frustrating and disgusting.”
Unacceptable is a mild word to describe the contemptible fact that after 10 months of community quarantine lockdowns, the concept of an efficient and systematic process for helping travelers go through the quarantine requirements still eludes our officials. Even more appalling is the official indifference to the travelers’ plight, with Bases Conversion and Development Authority president Vince Dizon, a deputy implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, quick to discount the accounts of Lazerna’s group despite photos and videos confirming the unsanitary conditions and general state of disrepair at the facility.
“This is a proper hotel even though it does not have a five-star rating. But because we want to help passengers traveling to the country, this is provided for free,’’ he said.
Would Dizon consider quarantining himself in that hotel for 14 days? Nobody is asking for a five-star hotel, just a clean and safe facility where travelers can stay without risk of contracting the virus or worrying about unclean surroundings.
Dizon pointed out as well that passengers have the option to quarantine in a better hotel but they must shoulder the cost. In other words, because the facility is provided for free, local and foreign travelers should meekly accept what the government considers passable, or “puede na.’’
Do government agencies even inspect the facilities they use for quarantine, to ensure that these accommodations are at the very least clean and provide the basic necessities such as water, food, and communication facilities? It is clear from the ordeal of Lazerna’s group which agencies were not up to scratch. The passengers arrived at the Naia at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, waited for hours for their buses, left the airport at
4 a.m., and arrived at the hotel at 10 a.m. the following day. Lazerna pointed out there were no health, transport, or tourism officials who came to help them. The “runners’’ who assisted them at the hotel did not have identification cards, while the hotel itself appeared not to have expected their arrival.
The buck-passing was underway as soon as the travelers’ ordeal made it to the news. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration administrator Hans Leo Cacdac noted that his agency was not in charge of Lazerna’s group since they were not returning overseas Filipino workers or OFWs. Nonetheless, he said OWWA sent buses to transport the passengers to the hotel upon the request of the Philippine Coast Guard.
So who is in charge? It is ironic, and infuriating, that this question still needs to be asked given the many task forces and the virtual squadron of “czars’’ the government has formed to deal with the pandemic. The IATF and the NTF actually include practically all government departments in the COVID-19 response. And then there are the “czars’’—testing czar (Dizon), vaccine czar (Carlito Galvez Jr.), contact-tracing czar (Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong), isolation czar (Public Works Secretary Mark Villar), etc. And yet, incoming travelers already worried about getting sick during their flight still have to suffer something like Canyon Woods?
While the hapless Filipinos in Lazerna’s group were still waiting for rescue, it was reported that the embassy of South Korea promptly moved to get their citizens out of the hellish situation. Let that embarrassment sink in—if that is at all still possible among officials of this administration.#