An OFW Story: Arriving in Manila Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic

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[IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FEW DAYS AGO, I HAVE ADDED SOME UPDATES]

As an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), I am one of the numerous individuals affected by the current global crisis. Being far from my family has always been a challenge for me ever since I started working in Singapore. Before the pandemic, I was easily able to travel to and from PH. There was less stress and homesickness then. This obviously is no longer the case now that the global count of cases are going up by more than a hundred thousand per day.

As the situation worsened, my stress and anxiety worsened as well. Plus, I had this insomnia (for many years now) that was making me even more unhealthy. I felt heavy every single day due to lack of sleep and I was easily bothered by things or people around me. I barely even had the time to pray, and when I did pray, I was easily get distracted. I could still perform my work OK but I felt exhausted (physically and mentally) by the end of the day. Then I would be depressed at night not because of my insomnia but because of the fact that I will not be able to go home like before. Even posted this one on my page. 🙂

At first, my wife and I decided that I would stay in Singapore because of our financial needs. I promised to her I would try my very best to be well. Unfortunately, my situation in Singapore had become very unfavorable. Also, my pregnant wife (the delivery went well in mid June!) and my kids badly need me at home during these very difficult times. So, we had to proceed with plan B which was to take all the risks and go home.

After six canceled flights, I was blessed to secure a seat with the help of the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Singapore. I paid SGD390 (around PHP14,000) for a one-way flight with baggage allowance and a simple meal. This used to be the price I was paying for two return flights. Missing the extra-low fares already!

I thought of recording my travel experience as an OFW to give my fellow OFWs an idea of how are things now especially in the Philippines.

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What to expect when travelling from Singapore to Manila amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

Before anything else, my sincere thanks to the Philippine government authorities especially the front-liners who received us and took care of us from the time we landed at NAIA! Salamat talaga ng marami sa inyong mga sakripisyo especially para sa aming mga OFWs! Baka maglalaan ako ng isa pang post para lang magpasalamat sa inyong lahat.

  • Plane Ticket Bookings

    There is high probability that pre-booked flight bookings, regardless of the airlines, will be canceled. This is because our airports in the Philippines are ready to accept only a limited number of incoming travelers per day. I found this unreasonable until I saw the situation with my own eyes. So, I suggest you get in touch with the Philippine Embassy in Singapore and follow their Facebook page to monitor the next special flight. It’s the surest way to get a flight!

  • Before the Flight

    Prepare the following:

    1. Masks (surgical masks for some airlines),

    2. Hand spray/sanitizer (<100ml),

    3. Internet connection. Manila airport provides free internet but in case you are not able to connect, it’s always good to have a backup like internet roaming or even better if you have a Philippine SIM with data. Internet is extremely necessary as part of the Red Cross Swab Test procedures.

    4. Food and water. Food will be provided but you might get hungry while on queue (trust me!). It took us 6 hours from the time we landed at NAIA up to the time we got in to our quarantine hotel.

    5. Hygiene Kit (soap, toothbrush, tissue, etc). If you get lucky and will be assigned an elegant accommodation, you will not need these. I was not lucky so I had to spend my own money for these items.

    6. Power Bank

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  • At Changi Airport

    The airport is almost a ghost town. You might even see groups of people in full PPE suit queuing for their flights. Maybe their destination country has special protocols for incoming travelers or maybe they are medical professionals.

    Although the airport is not crowded, still you need to arrive early and follow the social distancing protocols in place. The airline and the airport staff will avoid any unimportant contact with you or your properties so expect nobody to help you with carrying or lifting your luggage. Mask on all the time!

    At Singapore immigration, nothing has changed. Unlike in the Philippines, the auto-gates are still an efficient option for long term pass holders. So, you may scan and go straight to your boarding gate.

  • On the Plane

    Not sure with other flights but the one I had had no social distancing observed. The Airbus 320 was full so expect and pray hard that nobody has the virus in your flight. You are only to remove your masks when taking your meal.

    You won’t see the faces of the cabin crews so refer to their name tags so you can address them appropriately.

    Besides the arrival card, you will need to fill out an OWWA form and BOC form. Please have a pen ready because there is a lot of manual writing to do along the way. Having your own pen minimizes the transmission of the virus.

  • Prior to Disembarkation

    The Bureau of Quarantine will come in and brief the arriving passengers about the protocols in the airport. They will have you fill out a declaration form that you are well and have not been in contact with a person with the virus. While the form is being collected another BOQ personnel will do a thermal scan perhaps to isolate those who high temperatures.

    When the airport is ready, the passengers will be requested to leave the aircraft one row at a time allowing 30 seconds between rows. Masks on, observe social distancing!

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  • Swab Testing

    The Philippine Red Cross and the Philippine Coast Guard teams are managing the swab tests. The procedure is easy and they are very kind to answer your questions. Please be patient and wait for your turn. The queue can be long like in my case. Note, please have your Philhealth number ready. I did not have time to ask what happened to those who did not have Philhealth numbers but I heard some tourists and non-OFWs had to pay for the swab.

    Prior to swabbing, you will be asked to scan a QR code with your phone which takes you to a Red Cross website where you need to provide your personal details. This is why you need to have a good internet connection so you could access the site, fill out the form that includes uploading a photo of your passport. Once submitted, take a screenshot of the QR code generated for you. The code will be used for verification before the actual swab test. Upon verification, the staff will provide you some 5 or 6 bar codes. One of which, will be stuck on your passport to cross check your records later. The other bar codes will be handed over to the swab test booth personnel and you will be asked to show your passport.

    The swabbing experience is not good but bearable for adults. I cannot imagine my toddlers undergoing the same thing I did. This is one thing to take note for those travelling with babies or young children. After the swab, you will be led to the immigration counters. There is nothing new except the social distancing measures but expect a long queue as usual.

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  • After the Immigration

    Land-based OFWs are to approach OWWA. Short orientation will be done and food (in my case, food was given) will be provided. They will then do further verification with your Red Cross QR code before assigning the accommodation. You will then ride on an OWWA provided transport to the pre-assigned facility. You cannot pre-plan or choose your own accommodation or mode of transport to the quarantine facility.

  • On the Way to Quarantine

    Social distancing on the bus will be strictly observed. OWWA will ask you to fill out forms so make sure your pen is still with you. If you get lucky, you will be in the quarantine facility in no time. In my case, it was almost midnight and there was no traffic so we were able to get to Cubao in just few minutes. Even though the travel time was OK, we had to wait inside the bus for more than 30 minutes until all OFWs were ready to leave the airport.

  • At the Quarantine Facility

    You will be asked to observe social distancing even in the hotel check in area. In our case, the check-in process was done individually which involved temperature screening and filling out a form (again!) at the hotel front desk. Please do not expect you will be sent to a 5-star accommodation, only a few of those hotels are approved by the government as qualified quarantine facility and most probably other OFWs are already staying in them.

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  • During the Quarantine Stay

    Pray, pray, and pray that everything will be OK!

    You are to stay at your room all the time. An OWWA staff (Houseparent) will check on you to make sure you are OK. Food and water will be provided three times a day. Please do not expect a sumptuous 4-course meal at a quarantine facility. 🙂 If you encounter any problem during your stay or if you are unwell, please let the roving nurse / houseparent know.

    It will take around three days for the result of your swab test. It’s a waiting game! Make sure you have a good internet connection so you can monitor the result and so you can receive emails from Red Cross or OWWA. These pages will be very useful for your monitoring:

    The second link worked for me. They promised to give a result within 72 hours and I got mine shortly before the 72 hours would lapse (see image). Few hours after that Red Cross sent me an email with an attached certificate in PDF format (not shown here). The certificate is a proof that you tested negative of COVID-19 and that you can now leave the quarantine.

    Unfortunately the wait did not stop here. Only those who have “sundo” can exit the quarantine facility. OFWs who do not have their own transport to their provinces will have to wait for our generous OWWA (Thanks God for OWWA!). They will arrange the transport to PITEX (Bus terminal in Pasay near Coastal Mall) for those going home via land or to NAIA for those who need to fly to Visayas and Mindanao. OWWA will again shoulder the expenses.

    So although I received my negative result on the third day, I was able to arrange transport for myself only on the fifth day. I had the option to stay longer at the hotel but there was no certainty as to when OWWA (and DOTR, I think!) could send us home due to the volume of OFWs like us in the same situation which is understandable.

  • After Manila Quarantine

    Please get in touch with your LGUs. Some, depending on their quarantine status, require an acceptance letter. Check also with the OWWA representative or houseparent in the quarantine facility you are in if there is a need to get an actual certificate from PITEX even if you have “sundo”. In my case, I was told there was no need for it and that the certificate from Red Cross was sufficient.

    Another OFW, husband of my best friend also arrived in Manila, was asked to go to PITX before going home because for some reasons he did not receive an email from the Philippine Red Cross even though he already got the negative results via https://redcross.com.ph/verify.

    Note that before checkout, for those with “sundo”, you will be asked to fill out at least two forms and an affidavit. Don’t forget to thank the Lord for everything! Thank the hotel staff, the OWWA officials, and all who worked hard for your stay. 🙂

  • On my Way to the Province

    On my way from Manila (by land), authorities in uniforms can be spotted in many areas especially along EDSA. I noticed them stopping some random vehicles perhaps to make sure there was no overcrowding inside or if the passengers were wearing masks to minimize the transmission of the virus.

    The LGUs are as strict as the national government. At two checkpoints in Quezon Province I had to open the car window for a temperature check. Some of the local towns have zero cases so checkpoints are everywhere to filter only incoming residents / visitors who do not have the symptoms of the virus.

  • At Home Quarantine

    A daily record of your temperature and health condition

    Before you even plan to go home, you (or your family) should have already informed the barangay. I remember few weeks back, there need to be an acceptance letter issued by the barangay for you to be allowed to go back home. Since the quarantine status has loosen a bit, the letter was not necessary for me.

    In my place, a 14-day home quarantine is required for all incoming residents regardless of whether you tested negative or not. The local government is very careful in letting even their own residents especially those coming from the coronavirus hot spots like Manila and Cebu.

    I’m with my family but not quite! I can see them but cannot hug them or kiss them or have a meal with them yet. So far everything is good, no virus symptoms whatsoever. Counting the days when I can finally and truly be with them.

My “balik-pilipinas” story ends here! Please share this post to all those who might benefit from this article. Thank you.

Let us serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances!

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4 Comments on “An OFW Story: Arriving in Manila Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic

  1. Hi, Anong airline po ang sinakyan nio pauwi? Iswab test po b ang baby na 1y.o.? Nkbook po s PAL ang mom and baby ko nxtmonth. Hopefully ndi macancel ang flight nila though ndi sya special flight from embassy.

    Like

    • Hello sir! Sana nga di siya macancel. Pero experience ko with PAL (1 time) and even Singapore Air (2 times) nakancel pa rin mga flights ko.
      Regarding babies, nasa unahan kasi lagi sa pila ang mga nanay with babies so di ko na napansin sa haba ng pila kung niswab yong infant na kasama namin sa flight. Pero ang galing nung parents nung baby may small face shield siya not sure kung bili o sariling gawa ng parents.
      Sana maging Ok biyahe ng mag-ina!

      Like

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