“Quarantine for vaccinated foreigners eased,” the Business World headline screamed. “The government on Thursday approved rules cutting quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated foreign travelers.” Furthermore, the article continued, Philippine health officials would waive COVID testing for anyone who remained symptom free.
“Wow,” I muttered into my coffee cup, “how great is that? What a relief!”
Then I read further. The new protocol, the article cautiously explained, applied only to incoming foreigners vaccinated in the Philippines. A group, I imagined, that was rather tiny and certainly didn’t include me. And so I was back to square one.
Like others, I have been buoyed by the recent news that Philippine officials are discussing the creation of a “green lane” at the Manila airport for incoming foreigners vaccinated, as I am, against COVID-19. The idea was proposed by the Dept. of Tourism and endorsed by the Dept. of Immigration. The decision on whether to actually implement it, however, lies with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which formulates COVID policy for the Philippines.
“If approved,” immigration commissioner Jaime Morente has said of the proposal, “it will not only resuscitate our tourism industry [but] generate employment for millions of Filipinos who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.”
Though legal permanent residents like me are not subject to the country’s ban on tourists, we still must undergo COVID testing and a 10-to-14-day quarantine upon entering the country. All of which I am more-than-willing to do after a previous more-extensive ban forced me to cancel a flight reservation, transforming my planned three-month US visit into nine months and counting.
Bottom line: my situation is looking more and more like that of an airborne parachutist in foul weather looking for a safe place to land.
Not everyone is enamored of the plan to coddle foreign parachutists. Senator Nancy Binay, for one, believes it to be problematic and unwise. “I understand the need to kick-start the tourism industry,” she told GMA News, “but this is not the right time to entertain foreign tourists… How can we entertain leisure travel if we still have huge numbers of cases and cannot address issues such as testing, lack of vaccine, poor contact-tracing systems, low inoculation rates and vaccine hesitancy? The only time we can be confident in opening our doors is when those systems are already in place and fully working.”
So the jury’s still out.
Possessing that 13A residency visa should get me past immigration. At least I hope it does, having already booked a new flight. And regarding the mandatory two-week quarantine; well, I suppose I will get through that too.
But it sure would be nice if I didn’t have to. And even nicer if the myriad of foreigners who love the Philippines could once again—or at least more easily—see the object of their affections.
A recent story in Rappler provided some cause for optimism. The government is likely to announce more changes soon, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told the publication, “To further relax testing and quarantine protocols for certain classes of travelers” including vaccinated foreigners. His statement came just one day after Senate President Vicente Sotto III urged the government to waive all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated people.
So I’m keeping my fingers crossed. And anxiously hoping that good news will soon render them serviceable for packing.
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David Haldane’s latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning American journalist and author currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines.
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily