Gov’t changes mind again: OFWs, balikbayans, foreigners can fly during lockdown

Lian Buan
(UPDATED) As of late Tuesday evening, March 17, the government is allowing OFWs, balikbayans, and foreigners to take international flights out of Luzon for the entire lockdown period

CORONAVIRUS. Passengers wearing face masks line up at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on March 13, 2020. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The government changed its mind yet again regarding guidelines on air travel during the Luzon lockdown.

Based on the government’s latest pronouncement, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), balikbayans, and foreigners can take international flights out of Luzon for the entire duration of the lockdown, or until April 12.

“OFWs, balikbayans, and foreigners leaving for abroad through any of the ports in Luzon shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine, provided that proof of international travel itinerary scheduled within 24 hours must be presented,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a briefing held past 11 pm on Tuesday, March 17.

The only conditions are they must not travel to a country where the Philippines has set restrictions, and that “departing passengers may only be accompanied by not more than one person to any international port.”

The Cabinet secretary said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration “may provide transportation services to OFWs intending to leave for abroad.”

This is the 3rd change to the policy within 24 hours.

Initially, the government said late Monday, March 16, that only foreigners could take international flights out of Luzon before Friday, March 20, or within a 72-hour period. This was the position of the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

But the DOTr and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) clashed on Tuesday, and conflicting guidelines surfaced.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran had confirmed to media at 9:51 am on Tuesday that only foreigners could take international flights and “no Filipino shall be allowed to leave the country” due to the Luzon “enhanced community quarantine.” This was also consistent with what the government announced on Monday evening, March 16.

But hours after Libiran’s statement on Tuesday, the BI released a memorandum saying that any nationality, including Filipinos, will be allowed to take outbound flights within 72 hours.

Notified of this memorandum, Libiran still insisted that Filipinos were excluded.

“No. As advised by DOTr, only foreigners are allowed to leave within 72 hours. This will be tackled and clarified later in the IATF meeting,” she said at 1:45 pm.

Rappler tried to clarify the matter with BI Spokesperson Dana Sandoval, who then said that their policy had the approval of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. The BI is under the Department of Justice.

“We confirmed with the secretary of justice that Filipinos are indeed allowed to depart the country within the next 72 hours, except those covered by the recently imposed travel restrictions (China, Hong Kong, Macau, etc), unless their flights have been canceled by the airlines or the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board),” Sandoval told Rappler at 3:39 pm.

Minutes later, at 3:48 pm, Libiran sent an advisory aligning with the BI that all nationalities can fly out within 72 hours.

“This is to inform everyone that during the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) meeting held today…it was decided that all passengers, regardless of nationality, may depart from the country within the 72-hour period (March 17 to 19), unless their flights have been canceled by the airlines or the CAB,” Libiran said at 3:48 pm, which seemed the final policy at the time, until Nograles announced the latest change past 11 pm.

Nograles said during the late-night briefing, “Dahil ayaw natin bigyan ng pressure silang lahat, dahil mas mahirap para sa kanila, ay inopen up na po natin, wala na pong 72 hours.” (Since we don’t want to pressure them, since it would be harder for them, we opened up the foreign travel, there’s no longer a 72-hour period.) – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.