Balikbayans raise concerns on new PHL entry requirements


RETURNING Filipinos or balikbayans vaccinated abroad are supposed to present a World Health Organization-issued International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) upon arrival in the country, while the Philippines’s own Covid-19 vaccine certificate (VaxCertPH) has yet to receive reciprocal courtesy with other countries.

This was the clarification made by Tourism Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Edwin R. Enrile, as local travel agencies and tour operators handling balikbayan clients were in a quandary over the new arrival requirements recently issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“For now, foreigners should present their ICVP,” said Enrile in a Viber message to the BusinessMirror. In the Philippines, the ICVP is issued by the Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ).

A tourism leader pointed out, however, the ease by which an ICVP can be purchased online, filled out, without the BoQ being able to check on the veracity of the document.

Under Resolution 142-A, the IATF requires presentation of “the national digital certificate of the foreign government which has accepted the VaxCertPH under a reciprocal arrangement or WHO-issued [ICVP] for purposes of verification/confirmation of vaccination status for non-OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] and foreigners fully vaccinated abroad.” This applies to international passengers coming from Green and Yellow list countries.

Can BoQ verify status thru ICVP?

Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III said his colleagues abroad and balikbayans “wanted to find out if there is a list of countries which already accepts our vaccination certificate or where to get that ICVP,” he said.

“Expectedly, they [balikba-yan] raised issue about the new requirement. It would have been much easier for them if they could just present their vaccination cards,” he noted.

However, Enrile said, there is still no list of countries which have accepted the Philippines digital vaccination certificate, VaxCertPH. Even the United States, where bulk of the balikbayans are expected to come from this holiday season, “still has no national digital vaccination certificate. For other countries, the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] is in the process of talking to them to accept our national digital vaccination certificate.”

Clemente also pointed out that, in the US, the WHO-issued ICVP booklets are “easily bought on Amazon. You can have it filled out by your doctor, or maybe the pharmacist where you got your Covid jabs. Theoretically, you can even fill it out yourself, and just sign some doctor’s name. When you arrive in the Philippines, how is the BoQ going to check the veracity of the ICVP you are presenting?”

A search on Amazon showed the WHO selling the ICVP booklet, the so-called “Carte Jeune” or Yellow Card, for $ 15.75 each. It functions as a “medical passport” primarily to document the holder’s inoculations against Yellow Fever and Malaria, as part of entry requirements in some countries. However, the WHO itself has not approved the ICVP’s use to indicate Covid-19 inoculations. The world body recently issued technical guidelines on the development of digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates, but had stressed these should not be a requirement for international travel.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control has a list of medical facilities accredited to inoculate versus Yellow Fever and Malaria, which then imprints an official stamp on the ICVP booklet. But it too, has no guidelines on using this for Covid-19 vaccinations.

The Department of Tourism has been pushing for the shortening of quarantine periods especially for vaccinated individuals, as it tries to encourage balikbayans to come home for the holidays. Only returning Filipinos such as balikbayans, OFWs, and foreigners with valid visas can enter the Philippines. International  leisure tourists  are still prohibited from traveling here.

There are an estimated 4.1 million Filipino-Americans, who account for the largest source of balikbayan travelers to the Philippines. The US is on Philippines’ yellow list, indicating moderate risk for Covid.

Under the latest IATF guidelines approved late Wednesday, vaccinated passengers coming from Green List countries just have to present a negative  RT-PCR  test taken 72 hours prior to arrival here, then home quarantine for 14 days. Those coming from Yellow List countries, five days quarantine at a government-approved hotel, take an RT-PCR test on the fifth day, and if they get a negative test result, they can finish their quarantine at home until the 10th day. For unvaccinated individuals, they should quarantine for seven days, and upon testing negative for Covid, go on home quarantine until the 14th day. 

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