While travel restrictions and quarantine rules are in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, one can expect a more difficult journey to the Philippines.
Michael Gabriel Angel came to Australia in 2019 as an international student and studied for one year at Bridge Business College in Sydney. He was unable to complete his two year Diploma as he needed to return home after experiencing financial hardship. After several flight bookings that were cancelled due to the pandemic, he successfully reserved a seat on a special flight with Philippine Airlines on 27 May.
Michael shares his detailed travel experience coming home to the Philippines. He hopes that this will help those planning to return home in the coming weeks until travel restrictions normalise.
The Journey home
Pre-Flight – I was actually one of the passengers who flew through a special or sweeper flight from Sydney, Australia to Manila, Philippines. My Philippine Airline flight number was PR212 with a departure date of 27 May, 10:35AM AEST time.
6:00am (AEST) – I arrived at the Kingsford Smith Sydney International Airport. Seeing the airport with not many people at all made me think whether my flight was really commencing. There were officers there to assist passengers
7:14am – Check-in counters opened. As usual, social distancing of about 1.5 meters is observed, unless you are flying together with someone or as a family.
10:53am – It’s boarding time.
11:17am – We just entered the plane at this time following some on-boarding guidelines: one-seat apart, with only two people on each row. Flight attendants are in full PPE.
Arrival in Manila
5:09pm (Philippine time) – Touchdown at NAIA Terminal 2. On the health declaration card (yellow form), we were instructed to write down the letter “L” on the upper right corner if working Land Based.
5:26pm – As soon as we got down from the plane, we headed towards the airport terminal building.
5:34pm – All of us passengers were instructed to take our seats for briefing about what to expect, locations for quarantine and all other step-by-step procedures.
They handed us out four forms to fill out:
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer explained the national protocol that any person coming in the Philippines from outside countries need to undergo a swab test.
After the test, we need to stay in a quarantine facility accredited by the Department of Tourism. They have a list of hotels where we can choose to stay while waiting for the result. PCG will not allow non-accredited hotels that were booked earlier, besides, public transportation or any private vehicle are not allowed to fetch you.
The government will provide shuttle services to those accredited hotels. And yes, these hotels are under our personal expense.
(Editors note: OFW’s registered with OWWA will be provided with free accomodation in a government facility, with complimentary COVID-19 swab test.)
The PCG officer reiterated that the hotel we are to stay at is not for pleasure. Instead, it will serve as a quarantine facility while waiting for the swab test results. We were not allowed to go out whenever we want to or even just use amenities like swimming pools. We need to follow protocols.
The release of swab test results is a maximum of 7 days. However, the normal waiting time is said to be about 3 to 5 days.
There are FREE quarantine facilities supported and fully covered by the government. There are three locations for you to choose if you don’t want to pay for a hotel: a) Eva Macapagal Terminal (pier), b) 2GO Vessels or c) Philippine Arena at Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
7:36pm – Still waiting. It really took time due to observance of social distancing at immigration. Priority was given to senior citizens, pregnant, and people who arrived from Melbourne, since they arrived earlier.
I saw others taking pictures of the current list of accredited hotels from the DOT. See pictures below for your reference.
8:07pm – The swab test for our batch had started, we were called by five’s. I think it is also because of the limited number of booths for swab testing.
8:17pm – I finished my swab test. On the booth, a medical technologist will do the testing, they will ask for your IATF declaration as well as the CIF or Case Investigation Form. After the swab test, expect that a PCR test slip (stub attached on the lower part of your IATF declaration form) will be handed over to you.
Important Tip: They told us to take a picture and not to loose the stub/PCR test slip as it is your proof that you already underwent a swab test.
Then after that, we were asked to go back to our seats and wait for some time to finish all other passengers on queue in the immigration area. Our DASS21 forms were collected afterwards.
9:16pm – Time to proceed to immigration after the long wait. 25 people are only allowed to proceed to the immigration which took another 20-30 minutes of waiting time.
9:36pm – After immigration, I went to pick up my check-in baggage and then went to a booth where we need to list our preferred quarantine facility to stay at.
10:15pm – I finished signing up for my chosen hotel to stay at. I wanted to stay at Philippine Arena, however, the place was fully booked, therefore I chose to stay at Go Hotel North Edsa branch.
According to the booth personnel, payment for the accomodation will be made at the hotel. The minimum payment would be for three nights, and extended until test results arrive.
Booth personnel mentioned that in order for you to know your COVID test results online, there’s a Facebook page of the Philippine Coast Guard. There’s a link there of the master list of Passengers names with negative test results. Positive cases will not be shown the master list. But if you are positive, there are assigned personnel who will go to your quarantine facility to pick you up and transfer you to the treatment center.
10:40pm – At this time, we were asked to fall in line to wait for our bus service to arrive. This service will take us to our preferred quarantine facilities. One of the PCG frontliners went over to collect our Affidavit of Undertaking.
11:01pm – By this time, passengers from my flight have not yet had dinner or snacks. There were no available eatery/food/restaurants past through the immigration. We were all tired and consumed. Our last food intake was at 4PM while we were onboard the plane. One of the passenger was asking the front-liner if they have some food or where to buy as we haven’t eaten yet. And surprisingly, PCG front-liners gave us some food to eat and a bottled water. I’m saying this because, I am not sure if they are really giving food for the passengers or they just gave food because someone brought up our situation. But personally, I really appreciate their efforts and the way they talked to us. They are very calm. I salute and admire them for their generosity.
12:27am – Finally, our bus service arrived. We were few and the last batch to be sent to our hotels. Most of the passengers are to stay at Go Hotel Timog Branch while I’m the only person to be sent to Go Hotel North Edsa Branch. Still, we need to wait for some time inside the shuttle as there were still other passengers to board with us.
1:33am – The bus leaves and takes people to Go Hotel Timog Branch before they sent me to North EDSA. There were 4 people remaining to be sent to 2GO Vessels.
2:18am – I arrived at my destination after an extremely tiring journey.
Read about the rest of my hotel quarantine stay, and when and how I found out my COVID test result: Hotel quarantine after arrival in the Philippines: expectation vs reality
I hope this article can give you an idea of what to expect when you come home in the Philippines.
To all returning Filipinos out there, especially those who will be flying back home, expect that my experience may also happen to you, so pack yourselves up with patience. Remember, we are in a crisis right now and everyone of us are affected.
Maybe there were other people out there who experienced more struggle than I had, but surely not all of us would come to the point of what I’ve experienced. Our experiences may vary as the national protocols have been continuously changing and adapting with the new normal.
Disclaimer: I am not claiming this to be an accurate and factual basis. The events I’ve stated here are all based on my personal views and experiences. I am fully unaware of the differences and similarities of the experiences of others. If there are any protocols I missed to mention here, I leave it to the authorities to fully inform the public otherwise.
Thank you to the frontliners!
I want to thank the frontliners because I saw how much they’re working hard on situations like this. They even extend their time, resources and services to all of us even when their lives and health are at stake. They may not be perfect, but I saw that they’re doing their best. I felt that they’re more exhausted than us.
Finally, I want to make it clear that my intention is to give you a clearer picture ahead and alleviate that anxiety/fear caused by lack of information. I am encouraging you to share this post especially to those Filipinos out there who will be flying back soon to the Philippines. I wrote this because like them, I did not know what to do and where to find related information. I also feared of the unknown what might happen to me as soon as I arrive.
Thank you for taking time to read and for sharing. Please keep safe!
- My hotel quarantine after arrival in the Philippines: expectation vs reality
- Stranded filipinos in Australia return to PH