Foreigners, Filipino passengers stuck in dilapidated Batangas resort

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 30 2020 05:22 PM | Updated as of Jan 01 2021 04:51 PM

Photos from Fr. Alberic Lazerna

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — At least 100 foreigners and Filipinos who arrived Tuesday night from abroad were brought to what they say as a dilapidated hotel in Batangas with no running water, internet communication, and proper facilities for their quarantine, one of them said Wednesday.

Fr. Alberic Lazerna, a Catholic priest, said in a phone interview that he and his fellow passengers who arrived from the United States and South Korea were rightfully frustrated, because they felt they were dumped in an “abandoned” hotel. 

“We are not quarantined, we are hostaged,” Lazerna told ABS-CBN News. 

Some passengers have refused to enter the establishment, which they said smelled bad, and had garbage on the entryway, he said.

“It is scary. I cannot sleep here… Nobody wanted to get out of the bus, it is scary,” he said. 

Lazerna narrated that they arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, underwent swab testing, and waited for hours before boarding buses that brought them to Canyon Woods in Lemery, Batangas.

They left the airport around 4 a.m. of Wednesday, and arrived at the hotel around 10 a.m., he said.

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They received food packs containing egg, hotdog, and rice for breakfast. According to the priest, it was the last food ration they got.

They were accommodated by “runners” or people without identification cards upon arrival at the Canyon Woods. Lazerna said they could not determine if they are part of the hotel staff.

No personnel from the Department of Health and the Department of Transportation were present during their arrival, he said.

Judy Sanchez, a balikbayan from the US, said it seemed that the hotel did not expect their arrival. 

Sanchez said physical distancing was not observed anymore, because of their situation.

“Para po siyang, if you picture an abandoned building in Chernobyl, yun po yung picture niya. Ang room po namin, it has no running water. The drainage is not working. Pumasok po kami sa kuwarto… Slimy po yung bathroom namin, parang hindi siya nilinis,” Sanchez said, referring to the 1986 nuclear accident site in Ukraine.

(If you picture an abandoned building in Chernobyl, that's how it looks like here. Our room has no running water. The drainage is not working. We entere our room... The bathroom is slimy, it looks like it hasn't been cleaned.)

Among the passengers brought there were children, foreigners, and an old man in a wheelchair, Sanchez said. 

'Frustrating, disgusting' 

The Philippine government first imposed travel restrictions on the United Kingdom until Jan. 15 next year as a precaution against the spread of a new coronavirus variant detected there.

It expanded the policy on Tuesday to cover 18 other countries, including South Korea, as well as Hong Kong, as cases of the new variant have also been reported there. The restriction for these 19 areas, which does not include the US yet, was supposed to take effect at 12:01 a.m. of Wednesday, Dec. 30.

The policy bans foreign nationals from entering the Philippines. Filipino citizens are allowed entry, but will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR test result.

According to Presidential and inter-agency task force on infectious diseases spokesperson Harry Roque, passengers who are already in transit and will arrive before 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 30 from the 19 additional areas are not be prohibited from entering the country.

"However, they shall be required to undergo an absolute facility-based 14-day quarantine period, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR test result," he said.

On Wednesday night, Roque said the US is added into the list, but recanted hours later, saying the health department has yet to confirm the travel ban, quoting Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

"I pity the children and the foreigners. It’s so sad we are showing the Philippines this way. This is unacceptable.. This is frustrating and disgusting. We cannot touch the bed because they don't look clean, I’m not exaggerating," Lazerna said of their situation at the facility.

"This is not a good presentation of how we treat people in the Philippines," he added. 

Photos sent to ABS-CBN News by Sanchez showed what appears to be molds on the hotel's ceilings, and cracks on portions of the walls.

Photo from Judy Sanchez

Photo from Judy Sanchez

Photo from Judy Sanchez

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Leo Cacdac, in an interview on TeleRadyo, said he would talk to proper authorities regarding the situation of Lazerna's group, as his agency essentially handles concerns of overseas Filipino workers.

He clarified that the buses used to ferry the passengers, which bore the logo of OWWA, were only used to assist the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“Tumutulong lang po kami. Nagmagandang loob kami na tumulong kasi humingi ng tulong ang PCG. We are helping out in terms of our buses. We are not necessarily in charge with the arrangements,” Cacdac said.

(We are just trying to help the PCG because it asked for help.) 

“We are just as concerned just like Father (Lazerna). This is a matter we will look into and discuss with the authorities in charge. We want to be just given time to… take it up with the proper authorities,” he said.

ABS-CBN News is still reaching out to the management of Canyon Woods, as the number displayed on its website was either unavailable or out of reach as of this posting. 

— With a report from Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News


Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated that there were at least 200 foreigners and Filipinos who were brought to Canyon Woods in Lemery, Batangas for quarantine. The figure was based on the initial information provided by one of those interviewed for this article. But in an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo early Wednesday evening, Fr. Alberic Lazerna clarified there are only 111 of them in the said resort-turned-quarantine facility.