"And what’s with the so-called convenience fee?"
After eighteen months of pandemic-induced travel restrictions globally, there is now a growing universal clamor to open up borders and get international travel back on track—but this time with all the needed health protocols in place as COVID-19 remains with its deadly spell. For this purpose, the WHO and its member states have issued a number of guidelines alerting travelers, in country or internationally, about the need to practice the universally accepted protocols to avoid getting infected or denied entry at the borders.
Given the millions of Filipinos travelling overseas and our continuing effort to lift our tourism industry, we should be able to easily align our requirements with that of the WHO and the rest of the world and ensure seamless travel across the board. Of course, the most basic guidance is to avoid travelling to “ affected areas” or those with a “ heavy concentration of COVID-19 cases” and, conversely, for us to ensure our non-inclusion in the “travel blacklist.”
Now, for those who have to travel anyway, there are suggested measures for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. For the unvaccinated, a long list of requirements is on deck including a host of tests (RT PCR and the like) and of course longer quarantine or isolation periods. Just complying with these requirements alone should make travelers think twice before even venturing out into the world. It is just like going out into the unknown since it is very possible that even if one complies with all of those measures, the border agents may decide not to let one in.
Given the increasingly universal acceptance of vaccination as the “gold standard” to deter infection and prevent surges and deaths along the way, the vaccinated are generally afforded more leeway to travel upon presentation of one universally accepted health document – the internationally recognized yellow quarantine card issued by WHO member states. This document will serve as an “International Certificate of Vaccination” (ICV), an additional document, or a companion piece to one’s passport indicating the holder’s compliance with the agreed health protocols.
Thus, inbound passengers can use the ICVs issued by our Bureau of Quarantine upon presentation of proof of inoculation and related documents to reduce their mandatory quarantine stay and enjoy their travel within the country before proceeding to other destinations. In the case of our OFWs and other travelers, the issuance of an ICV will ease border passage and entry into their country of destination. These guidelines should be easy enough to enforce so why is the BOQ and the DOH making it hard for our OFWs and other travelers, in or out of the country, to get their ICVs?
The BOQ website advises that for one to get an ICV, all the applicant has to do is upload a copy of the vaccination card and a valid ID and presto the document can be issued within the day upon payment of three hundred (P300) pesos and a “ convenience fee” of seventy (P70) pesos.
The question is: why is there a need for a “ convenience fee” when one can pay directly to the BOQ cashier if one goes there personally as long as not all the designated cashiers are on work-from-home schedules? Or, if needed, they can just pay directly to a bank designated by the BOQ for the purpose. As one observer noted what “convenience” is this so-called “convenience fee” going to give to the applicant anyway? Will the applicant get past the long line of applicants if he pays this fee? Will he get his ICV delivered to his designated address? Will he get better treatment at the entry gates? The BOQ and the DOH better explain this now before it becomes the center of controversy given the expected “sales” generated when things normalize.
In normal times, we are talking here, for example, of ten million Filipino travelers (3 million to 5 million OFWs going in and out of the country annually, maybe a similar number of other travelers(tourists and business people), and about 9 million to 10 million foreign tourists and other travelers. That’s roughly 19 million to 20 million ICVs to be issued annually come normal times. For the next two maybe three years this may just be under 10 million ICVs but that is still a huge amount—P700 million in revenues.
What makes this “ convenience fee” issue even more intriguing is the fact that it is going to be paid and processed through a newly organized fintech company called PisoPay. Except for stating that the company is a remittance and transfer company regulated by the BSP to “deliver fully integrated secure financial and payments cloud-based application to enable organizations an end-to-end payments capabilities” nothing much is known about it.
Who are its owners? Who are its business partners? What’s its track record? What’s the nature of its contract, if any, with the BOQ/DOH? These and other questions are now being asked by our BOQ sources who are afraid that this easy-to-issue ICV becomes another avenue for disguised money-making by some scoundrels in the DOH. We have witnessed and continue to witness a proliferation of such “high tech” operations offered to a host of agencies during this pandemic from the “Stay Safe” app for contact tracing to the E-Health Consult app for medical consultation on line to the Educ Consult in some schools and related “digital” operations which remain controversial for a host of reasons.
The way things are being worked out, I won’t be surprised if this BOQ/DOH-PisoPay operation for ICV issuance turns out to be yet another of those problematic arrangements. I just hope it won’t be so as we need to ease the travel of our hard working OFWs and business people as we navigate our way out of the economic burdens we are now facing.