DOT chief livid over hotels selling ‘absentee-quarantine’ packages

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat (Contributed photo)

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is cracking down on hotels in Metro Manila now allowing what industry insiders call “absentee quarantine” for returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) or balikbayans (homecoming Filipinos).

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat told the BusinessMirror she personally warned the owner of a prominent hotel in Parañaque, which allegedly has been selling absentee quarantine packages. Under said package, the ROF guests will have paid for a five-day stay (if coming from the US or other yellow-list countries), but don’t actually stay in the hotel. The guests then go to the hotel on the fifth day for their RT-PCR test. “Of course, [the owner] denied it. But we have our eye on them and other hotels that have also been reported as doing the same violations.” She added the Philippine National Police and Department of Interior and Local Government “have already been alerted” of this practice.

As this developed, Berjaya Hotel Makati was sent a show-cause order by DOT-National Capital Region Officer-in-Charge Sharlene Zabala-Batin on December 29, 2021, after the agency found out that one of its guests, a certain Gwyneth Anne Chua, “was allegedly able to leave your hotel and was seen in a bar in Poblacion, Makati on 23 December 2021, despite being under mandatory quarantine.” The DOT attached screen captures of TikTok videos of Chua and her friends.

“We understand that in Berjaya’s letter to DOT dated 29 December 2021, Ms. Chua stayed in your hotel on 22 December 2021 for her quarantine, and was declared Covid-positive on 27 December 2021,” said the letter to the hotel general manager Gladiolyn Biala, a copy of which was obtained by this paper.

The hotel was told to explain in three days from the receipt of the DOT-NCR’s show-cause order, why they should not be penalized.

A government source also wondered “why it took the Bureau of Quarantine two days before Chua was transferred to Manila Prince Hotel,” an isolation facility. “She was found positive on the 27th was only transferred to Manila Prince on December 29,” said the source who declined to be identified as he had no authority to speak on the matter.

Chua’s adventures outside her mandatory quarantine have caught the ire of netizens, quickly making her a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday.

Just recently, the DOT chief was furious that some quarantine hotels had been accepting Covid-positive balikbayans, who were transferring from isolation facilities, which they deemed not up to their usual hotel standards. (See, “Quarantine hotels accepting Covid guests told to explain,” in the BusinessMirror, December 27, 2021.)

The quarantine violations of balikbayans and hotels did not sit well with Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III. He said, “We would like to reiterate our stand for incoming passengers allowed into the Philippines to strictly comply with protocol guidelines regarding quarantine. We are doing our best to mitigate the effects of the Covid virus here and to find out that people are blatantly disregarding them is simply irresponsible and unacceptable.”

‘Be part of the solution’

He added, “We also continue to appeal to our stakeholders to strictly adhere to the quarantine guidelines agreed upon. We must be part of the solution to getting over the Covid situation and consequently to be able to open up again and welcome foreign arrivals.  Lax implementation will only delay that objective.”

Clemente also expressed concern “on the potential effect on our healthcare system and our frontliners  once more if we experience a surge of the Omicron variant because of the whims of some people.”

Meanwhile, DOT-NCR reminded Berjaya’s Biala that under the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases’s (IATF’s) Resolution No. 154-C, series of 2021, “international arriving passengers shall be required to undergo facility-based quarantine until the release of their negative RT-PCR test. In relation to this, Section 36(h) DOT Administrative Order No. 2021-004-A penalizes Accommodation Establishments that violate Health and Safety Protocols issued by the DOT, DOH (Department of Health), or IATF.”

DOT-NCR added a hotel may also be held liable under Section 13.2(h) of DOT Memorandum Circular No. 2018-03 for “Failure to comply with laws including those requiring tourism establishments to grant privileges and benefits to senior citizens and person with disability, among others.” In this regard, said the agency, “Section 9 of Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, enumerates various prohibited acts such as intentionally providing misinformation and non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern, among others.

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