BUSINESSES on Boracay Island are not required to send their employees for Covid-19 tests every month.
This was clarified by Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez after learning about complaints of Boracay business owners of the costly RT-PCR test now being required by the Aklan Provincial Government. In a text message to the BusinessMirror, Lopez said, the monthly Covid-19 testing is “highly encouraged, not mandatory.”
Confusion over the testing of workers stemmed from the Aklan government’s Executive Order 037-2020 signed by Gov. Florencio T. Miraflores on September 30, which cited a provision in the joint memorandum circular 20-04 of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on August 14, 2020, that identified “all employees in the hospitality and tourism sectors in El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao and other tourist zones, as identified and declared by the Department of Tourism [DOT],” as “priority workers that shall undergo RT-PCR test…once every four  weeks.”
This testing requirement of Aklan government was specific to the order’s provision on “non-Aklanon employees and workers.”
A business owner, JCR, said, “We are talking about employees already on the island to be swab-tested every four weeks. Employees or even employers cannot afford that expense.”
An RT-PCR test, deemed the most accurate in determining the presence of the novel coronavirus in the body, costs anywhere from P4,000 to P6,500. Results are made available from as short as five hours to five days, depending on the testing center.
Lopez said, however, both government agencies had released Advisory 20-01 on August 17, which he signed along with Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, amending the August 14 memo’s provision on tourism workers to: “All workers and employees and employees in the hospitality and tourism sectors in El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao and other tourist zones, as identified and declared by the Department of Tourism MAY be tested once every four  weeks.” (Underscoring theirs.)
“See, we don’t know who to listen to,” said NCB, another business owner on Boracay, when apprised of the DTI-DOLE advisory.
But Lopez underscored, “Even President Duterte mentioned asymptomatic [workers] are not required to undergo testing to get back to work.” The DTI-DOLE guidelines also said Covid-19 tests would be shouldered by employers, not the workers.
In a related development, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat clarified that all tourists entering Boracay, even those from other provinces in Western Visayas (i.e., Iloilo, Antique, Capiz, Antique), are all required to undergo RT-PCR testing.
She made the clarification on reports that busloads of tourists from Iloilo were turned away at the Caticlan port on Saturday, because they didn’t have their Covid test results. She also stressed, Iloilo “is now a hot spot” after an increasing number of Covid cases were recently recorded, which is even more reason to undergo RT-PCR testing before visiting the popular resort island.
“Mayor [Frolibar S.] Bautista was asking not to include Western Visayas tourists in the RT-PCR testing requirement, but we [Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force] declined,” said the DOT chief.
She added, Miraflores “knows” the RT-PCR testing is required of Western Visayas tourists. “He only asked that Aklanons would be exempted, to which [we] agreed.”
Boracay Island, the crown jewel of Philippine tourism, opened to more tourists even those from general community quarantine areas like Metro Manila, on October 1. Only seven tourists from Manila arrived aboard a Cebu Pacific Airways flight. (See, “Tourists in Boracay must wear mask, but not while swimming,” in the BusinessMirror, Oct. 1, 2020.)
Romulo Puyat said it was better that visitors to Boracay arrive in trickles in the first few weeks, so government agencies could test the protocols and recalibrate the arrival/guest monitoring procedures if needed. She, however, expected tourists to go in droves during the All Saints/All Souls holiday.