Street Talk – Quarantined In Manila


I’m writing this piece in our home in Paranaque in Metro Manila. It’s the fifth day of our confinement – actually, our quarantine – in compliance with the government’s pandemic protocol.

My wife, Gigi, and I will be “confined” for 10 days, with local barangay officials possibly checking on us – unannounced.

The situation could have been “worse” for us, we are told. We could have been quarantined in a plush 5-star hotel at a cost of $60 to over $150 a day, excluding meals. That’s the daily rate of motels in California, with a continental breakfast thrown in.

In truth, Manila’s hotel rates are comparatively low, but to paraphrase a well-loved song:

“Midst low-priced 5-star hotels

In which we may room,

Be it ever so humble,

There’s no place like home…”

You may ask, how did we manage to arrange a home quarantine on this trip to the Philippines? It must have cost us a fortune in kickbacks and an eternity in awaiting results!

The pleasant answer is: Nada. Not a centavo. And the whole process took less than two weeks.

This is our first visit to the Philippines since the outbreak of the coronavirus two years ago. We had been putting off our Manila travel plans because of the reported incompetence of the government in dealing with the pandemic, reportedly made worse by the reportedly high cost of bribes to go around the rules.

In the current social media environment, it’s not easy separating rumors, suspicions, and speculation from fact – thus you tend to believe your worst fears.

But, wasn’t there a legitimate way of being quarantined at home instead of a hotel?

That was when we learned about how our kumadre, Pet Brion, returned to the Philippines and succeeded in getting approval to be quarantined in her home in Paranaque. According to her son, Alger, they did everything according to the book.

“If mommy could do it, so can you,” said Alger.

Yes, overseas Pinoys can come home without having to use up meager funds for bribes. I’m providing all the details in order to help other homesick Pinoys abroad – and give credit where that is due.

Of course, the rules could change, and I can only cite the example of Barangay San Antonio in our hometown of Paranaque. But there is no reason why this can’t be replicated elsewhere.

At any rate, when Christina informed me of the many steps required, I reacted with skepticism. But she remained optimistic. And so, she launched Operation Home Quarantine (HQ) with the help of her brothers Jojo and Jinky in the US, and Ringo, in Metro Manila.

The process starts with a valid reason for being quarantined at home – like a medical certificate attesting to your need for home care.

My wife and I have the dubious “advantage” of being both over 80, handicapped by ailments that come with old age. So my neurologist, Dr. Tanya Gupta, and Gigi’s primary care provider, Dr. Immanuel Asuncion, both of United Healthcare, readily issued a certification.

Secondly, you need the approval of the Local Government Unit (LGU) where you plan to stay – in our case, Barangay San Antonio.

Jojo emailed and requested for the endorsement of a former schoolmate at Colegio San Agustin, Vice-Mayor Rico Golez. Ringo, who resides in our house in Paranaque, asked for help from our neighbors, Marcy Vasallo and Pia Narra, who, in turn, sought the assistance of Ellen Ramos, of Barangay San Antonio.

Ellen prepared the Certificate of Acceptance, which the Punong Barangay, Leopoldo Casale, approved with no hassle.

This says something about the importance of being a good neighbor, a good schoolmate, and a good barangay citizen. It’s particularly important to give your barangay officials due respect. Never take them for granted.

For Step Number Three, Christina and her HQ team emailed the medical certificate and the LGU’s approval to the Department of Health.

Because the papers were in order, a Certificate of Exemption was issued by Fatima Laperal, Department of Health Head Executive Assistant, “by authority of the Secretary of Health.”

Fourthly, we needed to pass a COVID-19 test (RT-PCR Nucleic Acid Amplification Test) within 72 hours from departure, to be able to board the flight to Manila.

Luckily, Christina noted this requirement in the nick of time. My wife and I could have been denied boarding had we been a day late – in spite of being already fully vaccinated and getting booster shots.

And finally, you will need a One Health Pass (Health Declaration/Registration), with a QR Code that gives authorities online access to your approval papers. Plus a Traze app that needs to be downloaded on your smart phones for contact tracing purposes.

I can appreciate the quandary of PAL when listing travel requirements in the face of frequent changes in the rules set by third parties, like the government. But PAL could at least provide a simplified summary (i.e., bullet points), with valuable inputs from the Philippine consulate.

Lack of consular info almost spoiled our trip.

Imagine our chagrin when the PAL personnel at the check-in counter asked for our marriage certificate, ostensibly to prove that my wife, a naturalized US citizen, was married to a dual citizen like me; either that or her old Philippine passport.

It seemed like such a ridiculous requirement being sprung on us. I was about to lose my temper. Fortunately, Nelson Tolentino, a family friend taking the same flight, diplomatically persuaded the young woman to find an option short of our going back to the house to secure the darn documents.

She talked to a supervisor who noted a “technicality” that allowed him to exercise his discretion. And so we were issued our boarding passes.

Should we be grateful to PAL? I don’t think so.

I think both PAL and the San Francisco consulate should get their act together to prevent the recurrence of “surprise” travel requirements.

We don’t mind following strict pandemic rules (that, after all, are intended for public safety). But please, no surprises.

My wife and I have been traveling together for years and our passports have sufficed. But if other documents are required, at least make it very clear.

I really meant this as a testimonial for our oft-criticized civil servants particularly those in the DOH and the LGUs. I would be happy to do the same for PAL and the Philippine consulate – but please do a thorough job!