BACOLOD CITY–The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Western Visayas has spoken: the Negros Occidental provincial government can require the S-PaSS (Swift, Safe, Smart Passage) as it so mandates.
Juan Jovian Engeniero, DILG regional director, said they have already responded to the letter of Bacolod City questioning the authority of the Negros Occidental provincial government in requiring Bacolod-bound passengers arriving at the Bacolod–Silay Airport in Silay City an S-PaSS to gain entry.
“We have provided them the policy direction towards the use of the S-PaSS based on the existing IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) Resolution. In as far as the regional IATF is concerned, we are in abeyance to the policy set by the IATF on the use of the S-PaSS, in which the LGUs have the means to set depending on their travel restriction,” he explained.
“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,” Engeniero stated, adding, “The provincial government of Negros Occidental can require an S-PaSS for their local government units and Bacolod City, as a highly urbanized city, can also require it.”
According to Gov. Eugenio Lacson, the S-PaSS is necessary in order for the vaccination cards of the fully vaccinated and the negative RT-PCR test results of the unvaccinated to be authenticated prior to the arrival of the passengers at the Bacolod-Silay Airport which, he pointed out, is located within the jurisdiction of Negros Occidental.
The governor had appealed for respect, noting how the matter seems to have been politicized.
“We cannot stop them if they want to make it a political issue, but they said that there should be some sort of respect. I ask them: why can’t they respect the decision of the province?” he said.
The ‘politicizing’ of the S-PaSS issue is believed to stem from the fact that former congressman Alfredo Benitez, who serves as provincial consultant to Lacson, is running for mayor against incumbent Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia.
“The provincial government had never questioned the guidelines of the city government for the two major seaports in Bacolod so I hope they also respect our decision regarding the airport,” Lacson added.
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.
The mayor said he was “compelled to make the move” in a letter on Monday, November 22, to Engeniero, 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 November 15-30 by the National IATF, it added.
Contrary to Provincial Administrator Atty. Rayfrando Diaz’s claims that EO 53 is illegal, Leonardia told Engeniero 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.
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 if fully-vaccinated and negative RT- PCR laboratory results if they 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 Malacañan 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 Negros Occidental).”
Leonardia said that such requirement in inter-zonal and intra-zonal travel is not covered by the NIATF guidelines. (Eugene Y. Adiong/iNews-Bacolod/Negros Bureau)