The Department of the Interior and Local Government said easing the quarantine status of the country to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) starting March would address the fragmented travel restrictions by local government units across the country.
The move was proposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force and the National Economic Development Authority.
“There is a need to harmonize and streamline the different travel restrictions imposed by LGUs to domestic travelers. These vary from province to province. Placing the entire country under one quarantine classification would allow the DILG to harmonize the fragmented travel regulations across the country,” DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said in a statement on Saturday.
He said they see the urgent need to remove redundancy in domestic tourist travel requirements and impose less stringent requirements by managing the health risks through other means.
Malaya said the DILG has organized a technical working group that is currently working with various local government leagues under the Union of Local Authorities in the Philippines to streamline local regulations for domestic travel, and recommend best options to encourage domestic travel for leisure to revive the heavily-hit travel and tourism sector and related industries while managing the risks of Covid-19 transmission.
“The people are confused about travel regulations because they vary from province to province. While some LGUs require a travel authority, some do not. Some LGUs require an anti-gen test, some do not. Some LGUs require PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, some do not. Some even require 14-day quarantine regardless of PCR results. We need the regulations to be streamlined and placing the country under one classification would help in the on-going harmonization,” Malaya said.
“We need to take a hard look if the regulations we impose are consistent with scientific data on prevention of Covid-19 transmission,” he added.
Citing figures from the NEDA, he said the quarantine restrictions put in place since March 2020 had caused a total income loss of P1.04 trillion that year. On average, that translated to P2.8 billion in salaries lost — or an annual income loss of P23,000 per worker.
Malaya, however, clarified that a less restrictive quarantine classification or the harmonization of domestic travel regulations would not abandon health protocols in total disregard of the pandemic.
“We’re not saying that we will remove all travel restrictions and go back to where we came from. That’s impossible because Covid-19 is still here. We just need to streamline because we need our revive economy and address the hunger, loss of jobs, and economic opportunities that came as a result of the travel restrictions,” he said.
He said 30 percent of the public still cannot go to work and 50 percent of the people cannot take public transport.
“People need to be able to commute to go to work or to earn a living,” he said.
Malaya said the domestic airline industry has also asked the DILG to address this issue since the local air carriers have accumulated a P47.4 billion net income loss as of September 2020 alone.
“Despite the reopening of major regional airports, the domestic airline industry has seen a slump in domestic passengers and domestic cargo carried due to fragmented LGU regulations compared to our Asean neighbors where Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have already revived their domestic travel industry to 2019 levels,” he said.*