A Letter to Pinoys — Do NOT Travel Unless Necessary

To my fellow Pinoys,

In a few weeks, we would’ve reached the final trimester of 2020 — with many of us still locked up in our homes, our year’s “travel goals” pretty much cancelled, and our prepaid tickets and bookings gone to waste. All in the name of safety. Is it frustrating? To most of us, for sure. But is it necessary? Yes.

I write this letter out of impatience, disappointment, and confusion. The other day, I read a post in one of the many online travel communities for Filipinos on Facebook. A girl had called out a fellow member who had successfully organised group tours to a town in Batangas from Metro Manila during the pandemic — when community quarantine rules clearly forbid doing so.

The same rules also state that travel between places under lockdown only applies to Overseas Filipino Workers, locally stranded individuals, and authorised persons attending work. The group tour to Batangas falls in neither one of these categories. And yet the event, which involved an overnight stay in a Batangas beach resort, pushed through. How could this have happened?

In the post, Ann, the concerned member, also detailed her exchange with the tour’s co-organiser, showing how the latter deliberately ignored warnings against their activities. By then, it had already lured some 10 to 20 joiners from Metro Manila. “I want to know how this was allowed in this group, how this was not monitored, and how she managed to do two promotions, and fill a second van based on her post,” she said, referring to the group’s administrators.

“In this time and day, we have to be very careful with our actions and I believe that this person does not have any clearance from IATF, DOH, and DOT to conduct a joiner tour,” Ann continued, as she questioned the feasibility of fitting eight travellers, with possibly no knowledge of one another’s travel or health history, in a small van while following safety measures.

The post also emphasised how even registered travel agencies, traditional and online, are prohibited from organising these kinds of activities at this time, which makes the concluded and upcoming tours to Batangas even more questionable.

“Nonetheless, your irresponsibility is putting all of us in great danger and I hope you know that,” Ann ended her post, along with screenshots of the said tour’s past online promotions. Photos showing the tour participants not wearing masks and not observing social distancing were also attached. If one scrolls hard enough, there are even links to videos taken from the tour uploaded in a popular video-sharing platform to prove it.

I write this to reinforce what Ann had already mentioned and the things I’d been trying to voice out on the issue of travelling during the pandemic, having advocated against it directly or consequentially, as someone who writes about travel for a living. I write this because I’m also deeply infuriated by how the people behind the said group tours handled the situation — by laughing out valid points raised by a fellow Pinoy, as though spitting on the efforts of our already exhausted frontliners in battling against the virus.

I also have to admit that this is not the first time I’ve seen a similar behaviour among fellow travellers, much less an equally dangerous “enabling” culture, wherein those who called out these activities were shut down for being “rude”, “pakialamero/a”, or “inggit lang”. A few weeks ago, I was one of them. And it happened and continues to happen to Ann, who now faces mockery and bullying from other Pinoys for voicing out her sentiments about what had happened. I wish I could just not say anything, but this has come to a point that needs immediate attention. Coronavirus cases are still rising, people.

I write this now and I sincerely hope I don’t have to ever again: To fellow Pinoys, please, do NOT travel unless necessary. Besides downright violating a national government protocol by manipulating documents, which was also proven in the screenshots shared by Ann, the audacious activities of these tour organisers show sheer irresponsibility and insensitivity. I hope none of us makes the same mistake for as long as this health crisis lives.

By organising activities like these, where apparently the only other requirement the unrelated participants had to deal with was to fill out health declaration forms upon arrival in the resort in Batangas, more than 10 to 20 lives could be at stake. An alleged “bulong” operative involving local government personnel was also at work. I worry that the numbers will grow even higher if events like this keep on.

I also call on thought leaders amongst Filipino travel communities, in the form of tour organisers, travel influencers, and online group administrators, to use your platforms wisely. If not educating about the risks of non-essential travel, at least learn to filter out content that encourages it among your pool of followers and members.

If it’s not too much to ask, I also call on you to be more proactive about it. Plaster your pages with “do not travel unless necessary” reminders if you must. We all long for inspiration at this time, but it would not hurt to balance it with relevant content now and then. I say this because an alarmingly high level of toxic positivity now exists in our local travel industry whereby news and informative content is now labelled as “inspiration-killing”. This is not the case, and it should never be the case.

I graciously remind you that thousands to millions of Pinoys are watching and following every post you publish. Until more of them realise the gravity of the “travel unless necessary” norm, I fear that more of us in the community can fall prey to reckless incidents like this. But with your help? There is hope.

Like most of you, spending these past months at home has had me desperately longing to explore the world again — whether as a form of self-care, a way to connect with cultures, or a chance to witness amazing landscapes. I also wish it was that easy to just learn to “live with the virus” so as not to incite any more fear. By doing so, we could all try our best to go back to how the world was. But that’s easier said than done.

To fellow Pinoys, especially travellers and travel enthusiasts, I call on you to do your part, too. It may not necessarily involve planning itineraries and suggesting destinations like we’ve grown used to, but work on helping medical frontliners and prioritising essential activities, if not supporting relevant small businesses, including those of displaced travel workers, and donating funds to coronavirus initiatives.

These things are the best we can do to help end this pandemic while keeping our passions alive in alternative ways. As my co-writer Danielle beautifully wrote in one of my favourite pieces on this page, “Not being able to circle the world does not make us lesser travellers. When we are travellers by heart, we can find new things to be excited about every day.”

Furthermore, as Ann talked about in another related post, I call on everyone to balance earning and enjoying without putting lives in danger. Like getting that first passport, summiting that first mountain, or hopping on that first flight — all our sacrifices will be worth it.

P.S. As of publication, the people involved in organising and coordinating the said tours have deactivated their pages on social media, so I have yet to ask for their side of the story. Some of the photo and video documentation by the participants and organisers are likewise currently unavailable. However, feel free to read one of Ann’s public posts on the matter here.

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