By Mario Casayuran
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Monday reminded the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Council to immediately assess and validate applicants who wish to avail themselves of the BP2 program and ensure that health protocols are followed and proper coordination with receiving local government units (LGUs) are conducted in the upcoming roll out of the next batches of the program.
“Let’s help all those who want to go back to their provinces. This is voluntary. To those who want to go back to the province, the government has assured that you will be assisted in having a new hope and a better life in the future,” Go said in Filipino.
As chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, and as the proponent of the BP2 Program, Go urged concerned agencies involved in the implementation to ensure that health protocols are strictly complied with.
“They must be interviewed for any symptom and possible exposure to high-risk places in Metro Manila and people positive for COVID-19,’’ he pointed out.
“Just follow the right process. The government will help you start a new life in a safe way and that is good for you and the community you’re returning to,” he said.
“A health certification and the assurance that the concerned LGU is ready to receive them is necessary before leaving. The national government should also help the localities with the capacity to take care of returnees to restart their livelihood and there should ready mechanisms in case of illness,” Go said.
“This plan will only be successful if we always follow health protocols to ensure the people’s safe travel and protection from the virus,” he added.
BP2 Council Executive Director and National Housing Authority General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. announced last week that the second batch should begin departing starting June 11.
In a virtual public briefing, Escalada reassured that there is ongoing coordination between the council and concerned LGUs to ensure the safe transfer of people. Assessments were swiftly initiated after the transfer of the first batch was completed. The council, he said, was careful to consider the readiness of the local governments, particularly their testing capacity.
“In courtesy to the governors and the mayors, we would highly recommend close coordination as well as recognizing their capacity to treat and test their own constituents. The numbers are still fluid. The targets will be there for us to be able to help us plan the next roll out,” Escalada said.
Validated and assessed beneficiaries from Metro Manila are set to return to various provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao in the coming weeks. These provinces are Leyte, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Camarines Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, and Lanao del Norte.
Escalada assured that coordination has already been conducted with concerned LGUs for the preparation of the next batch of beneficiaries and health protocols are in place.
“We added another health protocol of Anti-Body Rapid Test and allocation for test kits. This is aside from the standard medical clearance by the local health officer and certificate of quarantine,” Escalada said.
Weeks ago, the government initiated the pilot roll out of the BP2 program. Leyte was chosen by the BP2 council because the provincial government expressed its readiness to support returning residents as well as its capability to test, detect, isolate, and treat anyone suspected or later confirmed of having COVID-19, Escalada said.
“He also said that all of the beneficiaries who left on May 20 for Leyte complied with the required health certification from the LGU and DOH. Since COVID-19 is an unseen enemy, even those who had tested negative may still be positive after how many days. No one can really tell,” Go said, citing Escalada’s statements.
“This is why it is important that health protocols are followed and LGUs, as well as health facilities nationwide, are able to enhance their capabilities to test, trace, and treat patients with COVID-19,” he stressed.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also said that “agencies have their designated roles under the program, and these roles include the protocols during departure and arrival in the province of destination.”
“Just to underscore, the council has been careful in ensuring that returnees under the Balik Probinsya program undergo the protocols from departure to the arrival phase, whether through the member-agencies or in coordination with the LGUs,” Medialdea said in past statements.
The BP2 program, proposed by Go and now institutionalized by Executive Order 114 signed by President Duterte, aims to decongest Metro Manila by relocating residents, particularly informal settler families, to the provinces where they can be provided better assistance and livelihood opportunities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of June, 2020, the program has over 80,000 applications, mainly comprised of individuals travelling alone and families.
Go and Escalada have clarified previously that BP2 and Hatid Probinsya initiatives should not be confused with one another. The BP2 is a long-term program intended for the residents of Metro Manila who desire to return to their provinces.
In contrast, Hatid Probinsya is an initiative to help overseas Filipino workers, students, tourists and locally stranded individuals to return home due to lack of public transport.
“Let us work together to stop the spread of this disease and, at the same time, help our countrymen and women recover from this crisis. Magtulungan at magbayanihan po tayo (Let us help and coordinate one another). As the President said, we want to give Filipinos hope of a better life in the provinces after the COVID-19 crisis,” Go said.