Quezon City Chronicles: Landing
I’ve been back in Chicago for about a month now, after a two-month stay in the Philippines. Although this visit had not been my usual airport-hopping, street-food-tasting, beer-drinking (which necessarily follows the former) experience, it was, in many ways, more exhausting.
My friend, the esteemed writer Butch Dalisay, recently said that the most productive writing will happen not during the time of COVID but some years later. I think he was saying that when we’re in the middle of a storm, we can’t see what’s swirling around us. I totally agree. This is exactly what is happening to me. I am only now beginning to come out of the fog of my visit, still squinting at the haze, still trying to regain my footing.
You see, both of my parents have cancer. In their nineties, and still living in my childhood home in the Philippines, things are both the same and different. Mama and Papa eat in their bedrooms, but it is the same food—Ilocano for Papa and protein-rich for Mama. The kasambahay divulges village secrets through a mask, her voice no less muffled. The deep bark of the Belgian Malinois next door has replaced the astringent yelp of a smaller dog.
But let me start with how my trip began, with a warning to future travelers to the Philippines. And rather than recount an unnerving experience, here’s the incidence report I was obligated to submit to the Philippine Department of Tourism. Read it and learn.
To Whom It May Concern,
This is to report an event that occurred June 16, 2021. I arrived on that date from a flight originating from Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. with layovers in Honolulu and Guam (UA 183). Before I departed the U.S., I consulted several Philippine government websites that included Bel-Air Soho Suites in Makati as a quarantine hotel. I reserved and paid in full for the required 10-day quarantine in advance. At NAIA, during processing by the DOT (a sign was posted on the clear divider panel), I presented my hotel reservation. This was checked by DOT staff and approved. I proceeded to schedule and pay for COVID testing, assigned June 22, 2021, to be administered by PADLab.
I rode a designated taxi from NAIA to Bel-Air Soho. When I arrived at the hotel, the front desk staff informed me that the hotel quarantine accreditation had not yet been renewed and they therefore could not accept me as a quarantine client. Since it was almost midnight and I did not know how to find accredited quarantine lodging at the time, I decided to quarantine at my sister’s house in St. Ignatius Village, Quezon City. I took an antigen test on June 17, which showed a negative result. I have also been fully vaccinated with Pfizer. I have been following strict quarantine protocols at home because both my parents are in their 90s and seriously ill.
I believe that it was in my best interest, out of concern for my health and safety, to proceed home since I had no Philippine cell and had no way of checking quarantine hotel availability while riding a taxi at midnight, after a long international trip. I also did not want to put Bel-Air Soho in a compromising position by forcing them to admit me despite their unrenewed status. The problem lies in a list that is not updated by the DOT online and the error that DOT staff made in approving my stay in a hotel not accredited for quarantine stays. I hope this report will prevent the same situation from happening to other travelers. Those of us who chose to go home despite difficult travel circumstances are doing so for very important reasons. I appreciate the COVID precautions that the Philippine government has put in place and I hope to contribute to smoother transactions. Maraming salamat po.
Almira Astudillo Gilles