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DILG response to Bacolod: Negros Occidental can require S-PaSS

The Negros Occidental provincial government can require an S-PaSS (Swift, Safe, Smart Passage), DILG regional director Juan Jovian Ingeniero said Wednesday night, November 24.

In a text message to DIGICAST NEGROS, he said they have already responded to the letter of Bacolod City questioning the authority of the Negros Occidental provincial government to require Bacolod-bound passengers arriving at the Bacolod–Silay Airport in Silay City to obtain an S-PaSS.

“We have provided them the policy direction towards the use of S-PaSS based on the existing IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) Resolution. In as far as the RIATF is concerned, we are in abeyance to the policy set by the IATF on the use of S-PaSS; in which the LGUs have the means to set depending on their travel restriction,” he said.

“This remains as our basis in guiding our LGUs in crafting their local guidelines. We are cognizant of the intention of Bacolod City to ease the travel requirements for those going there but there are means to do this while in line with the policy set by the national government. Through this, we hope to avoid conflict in the implementation of these policies among and within the LGUs,” he added.

The provincial government of Negros Occidental can require an S-PaSS for their local government units and Bacolod City as a highly urbanized can also require it, he said.

Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia had asked the DILG to direct the provincial government of Negros Occidental to stop requiring Bacolod-bound airline passengers to register for an S-PaSS, while Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said the city officials should respect their decision.

The Negros Occidental provincial government is requiring all passengers arriving at the Bacolod Silay Airport, including those bound for Bacolod City, to apply for an S-PaSS so the vaccination cards of those who are fully vaccinated and the negative RT-PCR test results of the unvaccinated can be authenticated prior to their arrival to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lacson said.

The airport is in Silay City that is within the jurisdiction of Negros Occidental, it was pointed out.

Lacson said “I remember they (the city officials) said there should be some sort of respect, ill turn it around – why can’t they also respect the decision of the province,” he asked.

He said there are two major seaports in Bacolod City and “the provincial government never questioned the guidelines that came from the city government of Bacolod because we respected that, this is their area. I hope they will also respect our decision with regards to the airport,” Lacson said.

Leonardia had asked the DILG to direct the provincial government “to avoid implementing the S-PaSS requirement” for Bacolod-bound travelers via different airline companies, a press release from the Bacolod City Public Information Office said Wednesday.

Leonardia was compelled to make the move in a letter on Monday, November 22, to Ingeniero, who is the concurrent Western Visayas chair of the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases, the press release said.

The dispute between the city government and the Capitol stemmed from the latter’s non-recognition of Leonardia’s Executive Order 53 issued November 14 following the downgrading of Bacolod from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 2 effective Nov. 15-30 by the National IATF, it added.

Contrary to Provincial Administrator Rayfrando Diaz’s claims that EO 53 is illegal, Leonardia told Ingeniero that his order is in conformity and in compliance with the “Guidelines on the Implementation of Alert Level System for COVID-19 Response in Pilot Areas as of Oct. 13, 2021” issued by the NIATF.
Also furnished copies of the mayor’s letter were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III – NIATF chair, Secretary Karlo Nograles – NIATF co-chair, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and his Undersecretary Epimaco Densing.

In compliance with the guidelines for Alert Level 2, Leonardia said, EO 53 no longer required the S-PaSS for all travelers bound for Bacolod.

Air travelers bound for Bacolod City, through the Bacolod-Silay Airport, are required by EO 53 to present only their vaccination cards for those who are fully-vaccinated and negative RT-PCR laboratory result for those who have yet to complete their vaccination or are completely unvaccinated.

This difference in travel documentation requirements has spawned confusion among the constituent-travelers of Bacolod, especially with the airlines, the press release said.

The mayor also relayed to Malacañang and national government agency executives that “there is already a growing number of complaints from residents coming home to Bacolod that they are unable to secure their plane reservations on time because the airlines are still requiring them to submit the S-PaSS per directive from the PNO (Province of Negro’s Occidental).”

Leonardia said that such requirement in inter-zonal and intra-zonal travel is not covered in the NIATF guidelines.

“Bacolod City does not even require the SPASS in its two major seaports (BREDCO and Banago) because we believe that the Iloilo City observes the same procedure not only in the spirit of reciprocity but more particularly, because of aforestated purpose of the guidelines to harmonize, among others, the rules for inter-zonal and intra-zonal travels,” Leonardia wrote.

“We believe that should the PNO impose its own travel restrictions, the same should only apply to its own constituents,” he said.

This is especially so when Bacolod City, being highly-urbanized, is separate and independent of the PNO, Leonardia argued.

He also stressed that the Bacolod-Silay Airport, which Diaz claims to be under the Provincial Capitol, is actually regulated by the national government.

“As such, the PNO cannot claim to also impose its own EO against those travelers inbound for Bacolod City,” Leonardia said.*

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