Coming home, travel advisory, presidential debates, atbp.

Coming home, travel advisory, presidential debates, atbp. Featured

IT is axiomatic that the best part of going away on vacation and leaving home is coming home! In my case, the anticipation and excitement of traveling to America and back to Manila to be with the two halves of my grandchildren — Americans and Filipinos — far exceeds my travel anxieties in this time of Covid.

Unlike during the pre-pandemic days, all you need are your passport, plane tickets, credit cards and some cash and you are good to go. Not this time. To travel to America at the height of the pandemic, you need to be vaccinated — twice within two months, plus a booster shot two weeks prior to boarding time. You need to download into your cellphone a vaccination certificate (VaxCertPH) from the Department of Health proving you're vaccinated. On top of these, a contact tracing application, "Traze," with a quick response code (QR code) is required.

For the illiterate like me, the QR code encodes one's personal data in alphanumeric information downloaded into your phone to be read by a scanner at the airports. This is used widely to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 by making contact tracing better. How this works, I don't know, and I don't really care. Except without it Philippine Airlines will refuse to board me.

Outgoing flight

The hassle doesn't stop at the airport as you are required to wear a mask at the terminal building and inside the plane. It should be noted that only in the Philippines is the wearing of plastic shields on top of your mask compulsory, courtesy of Lo-Liong-Lao-Go, Michael Yang, the Dragon, and their not quite so anonymous sponsor. This refers to the billions of pesos of the corrupt arrangements between the Chinese-controlled Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and our government (see my Manila Times column of Feb 9, 2022). Surprisingly, JFK never bothered with these documents except for your valid B1/B2 visa.

Coming home

A lesser tension pervades the vacationers coming home from America. At this time, the Covid variant Omicron was raging. A more infectious type but less severe. Nevertheless, millions have been infected with it like the ordinary cold. Thus, anxiety still prevailed on our flight to Manila. Remarkably, there was no hustle at Baltimore airport as we boarded our American Airlines (AA) flight to JFK, connecting to Manila.

The inconvenience starts at our side of international travel. The Philippine Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) requires PAL to accept only Covid-negative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) passengers to Manila within 48 hours of departure instead of 72 hours. We postponed our trip back to Manila twice, as I was found to be Omicron-positive. But the hustle has been reduced somewhat by another IATF ruling that quarantine is no longer imposed in Manila for arriving passengers and that positive cases are allowed provided you present a doctor's medical certificate proving you have quarantined yourself (in America).

I came home after six weeks over our vacation time budget and several thousand US dollar deficits. Consider the following: Although RT-PCR tests are free courtesy of the University of Maryland and US taxpayers, the results are released only after 48 hours, outside of PAL's 48-hour window for RT-PCR submission. To get results in four hours, for our connecting flights from Baltimore to JFK to Manila, we pay a more expensive RT-PCR test of from $275 to $500 each! A lot of moolah went to four tests proving positive on top of the charges for flight cancellations, extra days accommodations and bayad sa kagu-ol (Bisayan for anxiety alleviation). Flight-related postponements plus other sundries doubled our vacation budget.

Lesson learned: Don't go on vacation to America until Covid/Omicron or another variant is controlled and beaten

Presidential debates

Our Manila arrival was uneventful as my GF and my wife (same woman) enjoyed a Valentine's Day breakfast, lunch and dinner — spending the entire day in bed (sleeping off the jet lag). And in time for Manila's presidential debates.

I witnessed similar US and Philippine debates. But this latest was unprecedented in more ways than one. First, it ran for over three hours on SMNI TV owned by "the Son of God" (SOG). Note that Pastor Quiboloy endorsed one of the presidential debaters. The fact that the SOG is FBI's most wanted criminal doesn't really impact on the debate itself but delicadeza should have prevailed. But what the hell! Delicadeza isn't a favored item in Philippine politics.

Second, except for Marcos, the four other participants rate within.09 percent to 2 percent in the latest polls. Leni, Isko, Manny and Ping declined, prompting lead panelist professor Clarita Carlos to praise the four present for "...political commitment and political courage to be part of this conversation."

Third, gorgeous moderator lawyer Karen Jimeno couldn't discipline the partisan crowds rooting for their candidates, whether their replies were correct, inane or simply stupid. And she couldn't cut the minutes allotted to the panelists for questions, particularly professor Carlos.

Fourth, the format was not fashioned for a debate but suited more for a job interview for an applicant to the Philippine presidency. Central to the concept of debates is for the presidential combatants to introduce their platform of government addressing people's concerns. Going "mano a mano," precipitating a clash of ideas is expected for the best ideas to emerge for the benefit not only of the listeners/voters but also for the combatants to learn from each other. There was no such engagement. All were either afraid of confrontations, knew extraordinarily little about the topic, or were simply ignorant.

A foreign policy expert, Carlos began the proceedings with a question on how, if elected, each will handle the QUAD security alliance. Unable to google QUAD on stage, discombobulated but safe answers were crafted belying deep knowledge on the subject. Carlos' deep and substantial questions flummoxed some of the candidates, exposing their unfamiliarity with the subject. Against an exceptionally knowledgeable political science professor of 50 years with a doctorate in defense and security, the presidentiables didn't stand a chance. It was downhill from then on.

The engagement turned into a display of sound bites, cute statements, canned ideas of motherhood statements passing off as ideological perspectives. But the choice of a dominant alpha female panelist in Carlos made the whole "non-debate event" her coming-out party. At every instance, she couldn't leave her classroom, interjecting her own positions at every turn, even announcing the book she is writing on regional fishing agreements, and a paper on the AFP abolition. "On a personal note, I wrote a paper on abolishing the AFP and I'm sure I got so many enemies...but if you're interested to read that paper, I can share it with you..." Marcos graciously replied that he was very, very interested.

This debate/interview/entertainment format left things to be desired. It was forgettable with listeners/voters retaining the same bias they left the hall with as when they entered. They were not uplifted. Methinks if there was a winner in this debate, it was professor Clarita Carlos who in a Jan. 24, 2022, TV interview with "Usapang Bayan" declared: "Maganda 'yang debate, para makita kung sino ang bobo at sinong may kunting talino." Unfair, brutal, but necessary!

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