Cebu defies IATF, tests returning Filipinos upon arrival at airport

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Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia (FILE PHOTO)

Cebu (CNN Philippines, May 4) — The province of Cebu will test all Filipinos from abroad, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), upon arrival at the airport, contrary to the protocol set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases who said testing should be done six days after their return.

Gov. Gwen Garcia said the "six-day rule" was repressive and would strain the finances of the returning Filipinos who are coming home to Cebu.

"I take a position, as governor of the Province of Cebu, elected by the Cebuanos and given the responsibility to look after their welfare, I am invoking Section 105 of the Local Government Code," Garcia said at a press conference in Camotes Islands on Monday.

"This is not to say that we will not listen to the (DOH's) recommendations, but any imposition will have to be with the concurrence of the Province of Cebu," she said.

Garcia was referring to Section 105 of Republic Act 7160 which states, "In cases of epidemics, pestilence, and other widespread public health dangers, the Secretary of Health, may, upon the direction of the President and in consultation with the local government unit concerned, temporarily assume direct supervision and control over health operations in any local government unit for the duration of the emergency, but in no case exceeding a cumulative period of six months."

In March, Garcia issued Executive Order No. 17 defining protocols for repatriated OFWs and returning non-OFWs traveling to Cebu stipulating that testing should be done upon arrival at the airport.

The governor said the Provincial Board will also pass an ordinance in support of her EO.

The IATF is pushing for an across-the-nation policy of testing OFWs and non-OFWs on the sixth day of their arrival upon the insistence of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and three technical advisers. They also want a quarantine period of six to eight days.

Garcia said she had to stand up to what she called were illogical impositions that were being enforced upon the province. She said the situation in Cebu was "under control."

"It seems they really can't get enough of Cebu," she said. "I don't know why mo-focus sila sa Cebu nga they have bigger problems sa NCR.

"Is it because our data is proving them wrong?" she asked. "That when we instituted, in this case, OFWs and returning OFWs, the testing free of charge by the DOH and our cases continue to go down, they are now hard put to explain their own stringent policies that don't seem to be working.

"So please, I will have to refer to the Local Government Code, first of all, the all-encompassing General Welfare [clause], Section 16," Garcia added.

Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson and chief pathologist of DOH Region 7, said Cebu has very good case control management which is based on empirical data.

"We have the capacity to do testing, who to test.. we have active contact tracing, our isolation and quarantine facilities are in place," Loreche said.