Over 90 passengers stranded for days at Manila North Harbor due to LGU restrictions, 'no vax, no ride' rule

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — Dozens of unvaccinated Badjao passengers are waiting to go back home after being stranded for days at the Manila North Harbor in light of the implementation of the government's no vaccine, no ride policy.

Philippine Ports Authority General Manager Jay Santiago on Friday told CNN Phillippines' The Source that over 59 families equivalent to more than 90 Badjao passengers are being assisted by the government as they await their next scheduled voyage back home to Zamboanga City on Monday.

"This happened sometime this Monday during the first day of the 'no vaccination card, no boarding, no entry' policy being implemented by the Philippine Ports Authority," Santiago said, noting that the passengers were unable to present proof of their vaccination and travel documentation prior to their entry.

Passengers laying mats, makeshift blankets and tents were seen outside the terminal earlier this week. Santiago said they were eventually taken to a safer and a more comfortable spot in the facility.

He said Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade ordered to transport the passengers regardless of their vaccination status, noting that the policy should be "patient and tolerant...but firm." The passengers were also provided food packs and financial aid while waiting to travel.

Santiago said the government will still have to coordinate with the local government of Zamboanga City, which requires a negative RT-PCR test result upon entry of returning travelers regardless of vaccination status.

DOTr: Returning home counts as essential travel

In a statement on Thursday, Tugade said unvaccinated or partially vaccinated home-bound travelers are also exempted from the 'no vax, no ride' policy, noting that "after all, returning home is essential travel."

Santiago said Tugade's directive "is consistent with IATF guidelines," but he admitted that the PPA feels "tenuous" about the different or conflicting guidelines that some local governments have to implement. He said they will try their best to coordinate with the Zamboanga LGU.

"Insofar as the DOTr and PPA is concerned, we will comply with the IATF guidelines which considers going back to the residence as a form of essential travel," he said.

"Whatever the local government unit of Zamboanga is requiring insofar as entry is concerned, that is within their discretion…and we will respect that," Santiago also said. "We will allow them to travel, we will just contend with whatever requirement the city of Zamboanga will require upon their arrival."

Earlier this week, critics of the "no vaccination, no ride" policy expressed their frustration about the late clarification that workers from industries under Alert Level 3 or higher are exempted from the rule.

Transportation officials also said those who are medically incapable to get their vaccine or have a scheduled passport or license renewal may still take public transport.

Lawmakers appealed to the government to review the policy that was enforced on Monday, following claims that it is discriminatory and anti-poor.

Government officials admitted to lapses in information dissemination, but argued that the policy only aims to reduce COVID-19 transmission and protect the unvaccinated.