Another Filipina who flew in from the United States skipped the government’s mandatory quarantine, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said Monday.
The announcement coincided with reports some people under quarantine have paid hotel personnel or escaped through fire exits, breaching the health protocols set by the government, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said.
Año said he received reports that family members and relatives were the ones pressuring people under quarantine.
Meanwhile, Gwyneth Anne Chua, the first Filipina who skipped mandatory hotel quarantine after her return from the United States in December, has caused 11 people to contract COVID-19.
According to the Department of Health in the National Capital Region, seven out of Chua’s 11 close contacts were infected with the coronavirus. Three out of her 26 general contacts, who were staff members of two restaurants, tested positive for COVID-19, as did one of her five second generation contacts.
The incident prompted police to conduct random checks at quarantine hotels to prevent travelers from skipping mandatory isolation.
Meanwhile, Malacanang said arrivals in the Philippines had been warned they might face imprisonment if they were caught violating COVID-19 quarantine protocols.
Acting Presidential Spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles reminded inbound travelers and hotels to ensure compliance with all quarantine protocols or face both civil and criminal charges.
“In the Notifiable Diseases law it’s not just a penalty, there is also imprisonment,” he said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart.
In a television interview, Puyat herself said more reports of quarantine breach had been raised with the Department of Tourism after the first reported incident of a returning Filipino woman from the US who attended a party in Poblacion, Makati City while she was supposed to be in isolation.
“After this incident, somebody gave the name and even gave pictures on the day she arrived, she also had a body massage, as in she was even posting it on Instagram stories. Very proud that she was skipping quarantine and her name was given and the person who knows her even gave a sworn affidavit. She was already caught,” she said in a CNN Philippines interview.
“I’ve given it already to the [Bureau of Quarantine] and the [Department of the Interior and Local Government] and I will leave it up to them,” she added.
According to the Tourism chief, the returning Filipina went straight to her condominium when she arrived in the Philippines.
“She didn’t even check in a (sic) hotel. She just said that she checked in this hotel but it showed that she didn’t even check in a hotel. She went straight to her condominium,” Puyat said.
In the same interview, Puyat said there were two to three hotels which allegedly allowed passengers subject to mandatory quarantine to go out and return to the facility on the fifth day of isolation for their COVID-19 tests.
Puyat said: “There are just a few hotels that do that, around two to three hotels only. We’ve already given these to the Coast Guard, PNP, and the BOQ.”
“We remind the hotels especially in the NCR that we have news about passengers who did not undergo quarantine and they will only show up on the day of the swab test and they always tell us that the passengers are there but I’ve been talking to my colleagues in the government, saying they will always deny the accusation and it is best to just catch them in action,” Puyat said.
Meanwhile, Año said in the radio interview returning Filipinos were under pressure “to skip quarantine so there are times when they bribe hotel personnel or escape through the fire exit…It’s happening.”
Año noted that the Bureau of Quarantine had filed cases against hotels violating quarantine protocols.
Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group is preparing the case that would be filed against Chua.
“We are preparing for the filing of a criminal case (against the woman who skipped quarantine),” said CIDG Director, Maj. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro.
The woman will be facing charges in violation of Republic Act 11332 or the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases.
Año directed Philippine National Police chief, Gen. Dionardo Carlos, to deploy police units to the various quarantine hotels to conduct surprise inspections to determine if all individuals subject to quarantine are actually staying in the hotels.
“The DILG through the PNP will help the DOH-BOQ and the DOT in monitoring all individuals subject to quarantine. All those found absent from the facilities will be charged together with the hotel or facility management and staff in cahoots with these individuals,” he said.
He said the police would request the names of those subject to quarantine from the DOH-BOQ and would physically check their presence in the hotels.
“We will strictly monitor compliance with quarantine protocols and tell hotels that no one should escape. We will send them show-cause
orders when they violate and we will strictly monitor the arrivals of returning overseas Filipinos. We will make sure that they are
accounted one by one in our isolation facilities,” Año said.
Chua admitted skipping the five-day mandatory quarantine due to “connections”. She later tested positive for COVID-19.
Some of Chua’s companions during the party tested positive for COVID-19.
DILG spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that based on the initial probe made by the CIDG, the hotel has liability for Chua’s actions.
“Out of the 15 of her companions, seven have already tested positive for Covid-19 while of the 19 secondary contacts, one of them tested positive. It has become a superspreader event and it appeared from the initial investigation by the PNP CIDG that the hotel was involved in
the actions made by Chua,” Malaya said in a Laging Handa briefing on Monday.
Under Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Concern Act, violators may be
penalized with a fine ranging between P20,000 to P50,000 or imprisonment ranging one to six months, or both fine and imprisonment,
at the discretion of the proper court.
“If you are thinking of violating protocols then please don’t even attempt to because we will run after you, including those hotels. You
are under contract, you have certain responsibilities and you know, not just civil suits, but criminal action can also be filed against you,” he added.
He also renewed his call to the public to report suspected quarantine violators so that they can be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Nograles said the proper court would determine the charges against a Filipino woman who allegedly violated quarantine rules after returning from the United States as well as the Berjaya Makati Hotel, a quarantine facility in Makati City, for breaching quarantine protocols.
“That’s up to the judge. I’m not saying this will be the only case filed because it really depends on the investigation ng (of the) police, ng (of the) [Criminal Investigation and Detection Group], and the prosecutor, ultimately, what the prosecutor will file in court,” he said.
“With those admissions and all of the evidence we’re getting then we will implement to the fullest extent of the law or the laws possible,
kung ano ang (whatever) applicable laws, we will execute them accordingly and you know, they will bear the brunt of their actions,” he said.