On the 17th of March 2020, The Philippine Government order to lockdown the entire island province of Palawan was imposed to reduce the possible spread of coronavirus.
Tourist destinations across the province were forced to close and the order impacted thousands of families dependent on tourism. Resorts, hotels, restaurants, and bars have closed due to bankruptcy and malls and shops have also closed temporarily.
The tourism industry was paralyzed and tourism-related services which bring in significant amounts of money to Palawan on an annual basis have come to a halt.
With thousands of employees in the Palawan tourism industry and other businesses losing their jobs, 2020 proved a challenging year. Road and building constructions were ordered to stop and public utility vehicles such as multicabs, ‘jeepneys’, buses and van transportation and tricycles were prevented from doing business under the government’s community quarantine directive.
Unemployment led to people not being able to support themselves or provide enough food for their families.
Thankfully, the government stepped in. Local government units from every municipality in Palawan went house to house to provide food and water to every household. Private individuals also stepped-out of their comfort zone and provided their own relief efforts.
CURFEWS AND CHECKPOINTS
Curfews were imposed. Minors and elderly people were not allowed to leave their homes. Only one member from each household was allowed to go out to buy food and necessities. Checkpoints were installed at every entry and exit point in each municipality and permits were required for any emergency travel as instructed by the government’s community quarantine directive.
Checkpoints were guarded by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Coast Guard and Barangay Officials and Peace Keepers.
Airports became sets for zombie apocalypse movies filled with foreigners and local tourists trying to leave Palawan and fly home to their families. Most tourists had to stay in Palawan for a month or more before getting a seat as planes were not allowed to fly at full capacity.
March to August is a boom-time for Palawan’s economy and the effect of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown policies on families who depend on community-based tourism was significant.With Palawan heavily dependent on tourism, the closure of all tourism related establishments has seriously impacted the province’s economy.
Hotels and lodging-houses were rented by local government units and turned into quarantine facilities. Some transportation companies were hired to pick-up travellers from airports across Palawan who were returning home from other areas of the Philippines. They were brought to their assigned quarantine facility before going home.
Some hotel employees were re-hired to provide services to the returnees while strict travel and quarantine policies were implemented to protect frontline workers and their families.
Mass swab-testing and quarantine orders were carried out by the Inter-Agency Task Force formed by the Office of the President. Returning Palawan residents had to provide travel authority documents from the Philippine National Police’s Joint Task Force ‘COVID-19 Shield’ and health certificates from the Barangay and City Health office before being allowed to enter Palawan.
As many employees in Palawan don’t own a car or bike, public vehicles such as buses were eventually allowed to pick-up passengers. People were advised to wear a face shield and face mask all times while travelling. Shops and malls were also allowed to open from 10am to 6pm and restaurants and bars were allowed to open: providing jobs and services.
Vaccines have arrived in the Philippines and new travel protocols across the country are being implemented.
The Inter-Agency Task Force’s Resolution No. 101 (February 26, 2020) states that when entering Palawan, coronavirus swab testing is optional unless required by the municipality’s Local Government Unit.
The mandatory 14-day quarantine is now optional, unless the person is displaying symptoms once they have arrived at their destination and travel authority documents and health certificates are no longer mandatory.
These changes are bringing recovery to Palawan’s tourism industry. Destinations such as the Puerto Princesa, Subterranean River, El Nido Islands, Port Barton Islands, Palawan Wildlife Rescue and conservation centers such as Crocodile Farm are now open to the public. The tourism industry is looking forward to a rebound.
As an island province separated from the rest of the Philippines, Palawan recorded only two confirmed fatalities from COVID-19. Unlike other tourism destinations in the Philippines, Palawan is already restoring its tourism sector. Most resorts, hotels, malls, shops, restaurants, entertainment houses and bars are now open with minimal restrictions in place.
In time for the peak season, local tourists are expected to start flying in and out of Palawan.
Palawan is a paradise destination with incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes. New accommodations are being constructed to prepare for the surge of tourists and importantly, community-based tourism projects are being established.
With tourism leading to an economic boom and the Provincial Government of Palawan’s continued hard work, everyone is excited for Palawan’s return!