Homecoming of stranded Filipinos halted in some areas as more returnees test positive for COVID-19

June 29, 2020 - 8:25 PM
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Locally stranded individuals (LSIs) from Bicol Province on their way home via the government's "Hatid Tulong" Program (PNA/Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

The national government’s program to send Filipinos home to the provinces was accused anew of causing the COVID-19 transmissions to different parts of the country.

Local government officials and lawmakers have previously aired their confusion over the two government-led programs “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” and “Hatid Tulong.” Both of which sought to bring stranded Filipinos to either their old homes or new relocated shelters outside Metro Manila.

The Balik Probinsya program had been suspended since June 12 despite receiving more than 53,000 applicants online last May.

The government had since shifted its resources to the Hatid Tulong initiative dedicated to locally stranded individuals in the National Capital Region or LSIs. These include thousands of repatriated overseas Filipino workers who were stuck in the nation’s capital since the lockdown.

Local officials, however, also blamed this program for the rising number of COVID-19 cases in their jurisdictions.

Hatid Tulong program is a joint initiative of the Office of the President and the following agencies:

  • National Task Force COVID-19
  • Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and Employment,
  • Overseas Workers Welfare Administration
  • Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines
  • Philippine Coast Guard
  • Department of Interior and Local Government
  • Department of Social Welfare and Development
  • Department of Tourism
  • Philippine Ports Authority
  • Office for Transportation Security
  • Manila International Airport Authority
  • Land Transportation Office
  • Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board

NTF on COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez also admitted that returning residents are a reason for the increase in confirmed cases in the provinces.

“Iyon ang isa sa mga reason na nagkaroon ng spike ang ating other areas. Mga galing Cebuna napunta sa Region 6 at 8. Iyon ang nakitanatin sa isa sa nakita nating spike,” he said.

Due to these concerns, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has approved the moratorium or suspension of the LSIs’ return in the following localities:

  1. Western Visayas
  2. Eastern Visayas
  3. Caraga
  4. Cebu Island, including Mactan

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made this announcement during the Laging Handa virtual press briefing on Monday and clarified that this is not applicable nationwide.

“Kaya nagkaroon ng moratorium kasi wala na silang lugar para mag-quarantine, lalong-lalo na sa Caraga. Ang Cebu Island at Mactan, ECQ kasi. Ang Region 6 at 8, kinakailangan nila ng mas maraming espasyo para po sa quarantine facilities,” Roque said.

What the photos showed

Recent photos of LSIs who have waited for days or weeks in ports and transport terminals drew backlash anew for the perceived lack of coordination among government officials, particularly between the national government and local executives..

RELATED: Private sector, citizens step up anew: Donations pour in for stranded passengers near NAIA

A report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer showed that stranded Filipinos were even soaked in the rain outside the Northport Terminal in Tondo, Manila as they waited for their delayed trips to Zamboanga and Dumaguete.

Anthony Siy, a transport official from Pasig City, raised the possibility that the crammed conditions of LSIs while they wait for their ride homes might be the cause of infections.

“Maybe a lot of these people were COVID-clean to begin with but they become infected and test positive when they get home–because their transport is restricted and they have to wait in conditions like this,” Siy said on Twitter.

Others questioned why local officials did not set up proper holding areas for them in the first place.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Previous concerns of LGUs

The official Facebook page Tagoloan municipality in Misamis Oriental reported that its first COVID-19 case is a locally stranded individual from Marikina City who arrived there on June 24.

June 28, 2020 – This is an OFFICIAL STATEMENT from the Municipal Health Officer Dr. Jennifer L. Advincula , MD, RN,…

Posted by Tagoloan SHINES on Sunday, June 28, 2020

 

Naga City Mayor Nelson Legacion also sought help from his constituents on Facebook on tracing returnees who tested positive for COVID-19.

MAGIN RESPONSABLENG CIUDADANONagueños, kaipuhan ko an saindong tabang tangaring mapugolan niato an paglakop kan…

Posted by Mayor Son Legacion on Sunday, June 28, 2020

 

Last June 18, 13 House members from Eastern Visayas issued a collective statement that suggested a review of the Hatid Probinsya plan, saying that authorities should ensure that returning Filipinos were tested negative of the deadly virus before being allowed to return home.

“We firmly believe that it is the duty of government to ensure that these constituents of ours are free from coronavirus infection and other diseases before they are allowed to rejoin their family members. Their freedom from COVID-19 infection means that their loved ones are free from harm, too,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

In a Facebook post, Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez earlier aired his frustration on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the National Housing Authority and the Overseas Workers Welfare Association‘s supposed lack of proper communication in sending stranded individuals to his jurisdiction.

RELATED: ‘Who said I don’t want to accept OFWs?’: Richard Gomez questions Duterte’s source on ‘Balik Probinsya’ remark