By Mario B. Casayuran
Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go asked on Monday the government to immediately help all stranded individuals and families in Metro Manila and other urban centers and safeguard their welfare as the initial phase of the ‘’Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2)’’ program gets underway during the modified enhanced community quarantine.
“Marami po sa ating mga kababayan mula probinsya at nagpunta rito sa Metro Manila ang nais na ngayong umuwi. Tulungan po natin silang makabalik lahat sa tulong nitong BP2 program at iba pang inisyatibo ng gobyerno,’’ Go said. (Most of our fellow Filipinos from the provinces who came to Metro Manila have already signified their intentions to go home. We will help them to be relocated under the BP2 program and other initiatives of the government.)
Among those who are included in the first batch of individuals who will be assisted to return to their provinces under BP2 program include 112 persons traveling alone bound for Leyte.
The first batch of returnees is part of the immediate-phase implementation of the BP2 program, according to National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager and BP2 Program Council Executive Director Marcelino Escalada, Jr. They are scheduled to leave early this week.
“Our target is 100 to 300 leaving for the provinces depending upon the capacity of the local government units (LGUs) to undertake health protocols,” Escalada said.
Based on an update relayed by Escalada, transportation needs will be provided or facilitated by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) while cash allowances will be extended to them by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
A dispatch protocol will also be prepared by the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that strict COVID-19 precautionary measures are followed during their return. All and succeeding returnees will be subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test by the DOH.
According to Escalada, NHA is preparing a dispatch site for the returnees.
For the initial batch, NHA is utilizing its property near Vertis North in Quezon City where a temporary terminal will be installed. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will link up with the target LGUs to receive them and ensure that their other needs are met. All concerned government agencies will extend other needed assistance to the returnees upon arrival in the province based on their profile and assessment.
Returnees to Leyte are prioritized since the province has registered the highest number of individuals who signified readiness to return at 2,300 persons. Once they have been successfully brought back to Leyte, the program will have simultaneous trips to provinces throughout Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
Meanwhile, 55 individuals in Cebu are also expected to return to Davao City by next week under BP2 program. These include eighteen students, 21 people with disability, two senior citizens, a pregnant woman, and thirteen other individuals.
They have been tested by DOH for COVID-19 and will be given food by DSWD while they wait for their departure schedule.
The Office of Senator Go has also assisted in coordinating with appropriate agencies regarding identification of beneficiaries, and provision of the needs of the returnees, such as food and transportation. The issuance of the clearance in their port of destination was also facilitated.
As the BP2 program assists more and more Filipinos going back to their provinces, Go emphasized that the whole country should learn from the experiences encountered during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly the difficulties in controlling the spread of the disease and the challenges of delivering government services in overpopulated urban centers.
“Sa Bisaya, ‘natagam’, o nadala na tayo (In Bisaya, they have regretted it). Let this be a learning experience for us all,” Go said, emphasizing the need to provide long-term solutions to better address various social, economic, and health issues in the future.
Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, said these affected individuals only wanted to seek better opportunities in Metro Manila. Some are students from the provinces who wanted to take their education in big cities. Because of the stringent travel restrictions under the enhanced community quarantine, these people were cut off from their families for two months now.
Go, author of the BP2 program, emphasized that the initiative should be seen as a long-term, holistic program to address perennial problems in both urban and rural areas and not simply just as an immediate response to the crisis.
“Hindi po natin basta ililipat lang ang mga tao from urban to rural areas. Wala po itong pilitan. Sinisiguro ng gobyerno na magiging maayos ang kabuhayan ng mga taong lilipat. Kaya po nagtayo ng inter-agency council. Para masigurong lahat ng aspeto ng buhay ng mga Pilipino ay mapaghandaan,’’ he explained. (We will not just relocate the people from the urban to rural areas. This is voluntary. The government will ensure that the relocatees will have better livelihood. This is the reason why we created an inter-agency council in order to put in place all the needed preparations for a better future for the Filipinos.)
“Sa short-term, nais po ng programang ito na tulungan bumangon muli ang kabuhayan ng mga gusto na bumalik sa kanilang probinsya. Sa mid- to long-term phase naman, holistic ang approach pagdating sa pagsasaayos ng mga essential public services sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa, tulad ng education, housing, livelihood and health. Kasama rito ang pagpapalago ng ekonomiya sa mga probinsya,’’ he added. (In the short-term, this program aims to improve the livelihood of those who want to be relocated to their provinces. In the mid-term phase, the approach is holistic in upgrading the essential public services in the different parts of the country, such as education, housing, livelihood and health. Including the growth of the economy in the provinces.)