Travel to PH allowed through “Balikbayan Program” effective Dec. 7

by Ricky Rillera

Filipino travelers arriving at the NAIA in Manila | Photo Philippine Embassy

NEW YORK – Thursday, November 26, came with the news that Filipino Americans welcomed and can be thankful for while celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has announced the resolution of the Inter-Agency Task on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on allowing former Filipino citizens to travel to the Philippines effective December 7, 2020 through the Balikbayan Program.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that reinstating the balikbayan program during the holidays is a great cause for celebration for millions of families who long for the homecoming of their relatives abroad.

“This not only bodes well for our ailing industry but is good tidings for our kababayans who have been clamoring to be reunited with their loved ones from abroad, especially this yuletide season,” Secretary Puyat gushed.

Troi Santos Photo via Facebook

Troi Santos of Queens, New York, who had been planning for months to go home without the hassle of filing for dual citizenship, welcomed the announcement. “This is great because we are planning on going back this May for the Holy Week and a wedding. I will book our flight right away,” he said. “I am not afraid to travel despite the pandemic. I am sure airline carriers, particularly PAL, have all the safety protocols.”

The IATF’s resolution has listed the following entry privileges under Republic Act No. 6768 or the “Act Instituting the Balikbayan Program”:
a) Filipino citizens’ foreign spouses and children, regardless of age, who are traveling with them;
b) Former Filipino citizens, including their spouses and children, regardless of age, travel with them.

The entry of these persons shall be subject to the following conditions:
a) they are allowed visa-free access under Executive Order No. 408, s. 1960;
b) with pre-booked quarantine facility;
c) with pre-booked COVID-19 testing at a laboratory operating at the airport; and
d) subject to the maximum capacity of inbound passengers at the port and date of entry.

Cherry Marmes-Smyth | Photo via Facebook

Cherry Marmes-Smyth of Connecticut, whose spouse is a foreign national, also welcomed the good news. “This will allow people such as myself, my husband and my son to travel back to the Philippines. Apparently, it is no longer a requirement to be a dual citizen in order to travel during these uncertain times.”

Benjie Sabalvaro of Chicago, Illinois, had the same feeling of joy and excitement. “This is good news for all of our kababayans, no need to worry about dual citizenship or visa. With Christmas coming now we can make arrangements and plan to go home,” he said. “I am sure it will also help the tourism business in the Philippines. I know a lot of our kababayans will take advantage of this executive order. I assume many of us will consider the Philippines due to the worsening pandemic in the States where mask wearing and social distancing has been politicized.”

Benjie Sabalvaro | Photo via Facebook

The IATF also directed the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to formulate the necessary guidelines to ensure smooth implementation. Also, the IATF tasked the DOT to issue the procedures required to provide sufficient accommodation, taking into account the release of test results.

“Balikbayans are considered as a viable source market of the country for tourism, particularly extending to the second and third generation dependents who have yet to discover their parents’ roots. The Filipino diaspora to date has reached about 10 million, Romulat-Puyat said. “That is why we deem important the Filipino communities abroad as staunch partners in driving visitors to the Philippines,” the tourism chief added.

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