S-Pass use baffles Negros travelers

BACOLOD CITY: The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Western Visayas has spoken and it said the Negros Occidental provincial government can require an S-Pass (Swift, Safe, Smart Passage).

The statement has apparently prevented the issue that had sown confusion among travelers from getting political.

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 to require Bacolod-bound passengers arriving at the Bacolod–Silay Airport in Silay City to obtain an S-PaSS.

“We have provided them with the policy direction toward the use of S-PaSS based on the existing IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) resolution. As far as the IATF is concerned, we are in abeyance to the policy set by the IATF on the use of the S-PaSS,” he added.

“This remains as our basis in guiding our LGUs (local government units) 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 said.

The provincial government of Negros Occidental can require an S-PaSS for their LGUs, and Bacolod City as a highly urbanized can also require it, he added.

Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia had asked the DILG to direct the provincial government of Negros Occidental to stop requiring Bacolod-bound airline passengers to register for an S-PaSS, while Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson said the city officials should respect their decision.

The Negros Occidental provincial government is requiring all passengers arriving at the Bacolod Silay Airport, including those bound for Bacolod City, to apply for an S-PaSS so the vaccination cards of those who are fully vaccinated and the negative RT-PCR test results of the unvaccinated can be authenticated prior to their arrival to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Lacson also said.

The airport is in Silay City, which is within the jurisdiction of Negros Occidental, it was pointed out.

Lacson said there are two major seaports in Bacolod City and “the provincial government never questioned the guidelines that came from the city government of Bacolod because we respected that, this is their area. I hope they will also respect our decision with regard to the airport.”

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 on Wednesday.

He was apparently compelled to make the move in a letter on Monday, November 22, to Engeniero, also the concurrent Western Visayas chairman of the Regional IATF, 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 (EO) 53 issued November 14 over the downgrading of Bacolod from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 2 effective November 15-30 by the IATF, it added.

Contrary to Provincial Administrator 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 IATF.

Also furnished copies of the mayor’s letter were Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, IATF chairman; Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles, IATF co-chairman; and DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and his Undersecretary Epimaco Densing.

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 for those who are fully-vaccinated and negative RT-PCR laboratory result for those who are 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 Malacañang 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 such a requirement in inter-zonal and intrazonal travel is not covered in the IATF guidelines.

The apparent politicizing of the S- PaSS issue stems from the fact that former representative Alfredo Benitez is serving as consultant to Lacson at the provincial government.

Benitez is running for mayor against the incumbent Leonardia in Bacolod City.