Philippine tourism

Puerto Galera reopens March 10; no COVID-19 tests required for tourists

Tina Ganzon-Ozaeta
Puerto Galera reopens March 10; no COVID-19 tests required for tourists

PUERTO GALERA. A file photo of Buri Resort in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro.

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Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan stands by his position not to require COVID-19 tests for tourists even after Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor asked him to defer the plan

The municipality of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro will no longer require COVID-19 tests for tourists as it reopens its borders on Thursday, March 10.

Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan said in an online press conference on Wednesday, March 9, that he will stand by his decision despite being advised by Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor to defer the plan.

“Hindi po sa pagwalang respeto sa ating gobernador but my executive order stands. Bubuksan ko ang bayan ng Puerto Galera, walang swab test,” he said in an online press conference. 

(I don’t mean any disrespect for our governor but my executive order stands. We will open Puerto Galera [to tourists], no swab test required.)

Ilagan said he sent a letter to the governor as early as March 1, informing him of his plan to reopen Puerto Galera but never heard back from his office until a week later.

“Hindi ko inasahan na one day before lang ako bababaan ng sulat through Facebook pa…. There’s a thin line separating control and supervision. He is depriving the authority of a local chief executive. Ang power niya over me ay supervision, hindi control,” he added. 

(I didn’t epect that I would get a response a day before [the opening], though Facebook…. There’s a thin line separating control and supervision. He is depriving the authority of a local chief executive. His power over me is supervision, not control.)

In a letter addressed to Ilagan dated March 8, Dolor said the request to waive reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests or swab testing shall be held in abeyance until a public dialogue is conducted.  The letter was posted on the the Oriental Mindoro governor’s official Facebook page.

In his letter, Dolor cited IATF Resolution No. 101 Section B.1. which “clearly states that testing shall be made mandatory except if the LGU of destination (province with respect to their municipalities and component cities) and highly urbanized cities and independent component cities will require testing as a requirement prior to travel, and such shall be limited to RT-PCR.”

“As a matter of fact, unless otherwise amended, the Provincial Executive Order No 60-A issued on October 15, 2020 required a tourist to submit a negative RT-PCT valid within 48 hours upon release especially from those who are coming from different quarantine classification,” the governor said.

‘We depend on tourists’

It has been 360 days since Puerto Galera closed its doors to tourists due to the coronavirus disease.  Unlike other municipalities in Oriental Mindoro, Puerto Galera primarily depends on tourism as its bloodline for economic growth and development.  The municipality is home to over 300 tourism establishments. 

Before the pandemic, Puerto Galera recorded 320,000 tourist arrivals in 2019 and collected over P1.6 billion in tourism receipts.   

“Dati ang hinihingi ng tao sa akin pambili ng gamot, ngayon bigas na, makaraos lang ng pagkain. Turista ang hanapbuhay natin (Our people used to ask me for money to buy medicine, but now, they need money to buy rice so they would have food on the table. We depend on tourists),” Ilagan said.

To ease travel restrictions, the Municipality of Puerto Galera issued Executive Order No. 21-2021 or the Governing Guidelines for the opening of Balatero Port / Muelle Port and Villaflor Border as Points of Entry and Exit of Travelers.

Under EO 21-2021, RT-PCR test or nasopharyngeal swab (antigen test) will no longer be required to enter the municipality, but all travelers must observe minimum health standards.

All travelers and authorized persons outside of residence (APOR), excluding tourists, must accomplish the online registration link of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office for the Travel Confirmation Pass. Upon arrival at the entry points, all resident travelers must proceed to the Travel Management Desk for health and exposure assessment and issuance of QR Code. 

Non-resident travelers or tourists must have a confirmed booking in an establishment with a Certificate of Authority to Operate from the Department of Tourism, and a mayor’s permit. They should also complete the Tourist Registration Application prior to travel.

Upon arrival at the entry points (Muelle Port/Balatero Port/Villaflor Border), non-resident travelers must proceed to the travel management desk for health and exposure assessment, scanning of QR Code, and other procedures.

From its white sand beaches to its majestic mountain views and unique indigenous arts and culture, Puerto Galera hopes to bounce back as it begins opening its borders just in time for the summer.

The municipal government implemented a limited reopening of tourism activities in Puerto Galera August 2020, but with a number of restrictions –including COVID-19 testing – and there was only one entry point.

Other tourism destinations are also hoping to generate revenues starting this summer amid concerns over rising cases and the detection of more contagious COVID-19 variants in the country.

Based on Department of Health data on March 7, a total of 2,694 cases have been recorded in MIMAROPA, of which 57 are active cases. Of the active cases, 34 are from Oriental Mindoro. 

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