By Mario Casayuran
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, chairman of the Senate Health and Demography Committee, on Monday called on concerned government agencies to work together to assist locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who are finding ways to get home to their provinces amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Tulungan natin ang ating mga kababayan na naghahanap ng paraan makauwi. Bigyan natin sila ng maayos na sistema para hindi sila nakaabang lang sa mga transportation terminals. Alagaan rin natin sila, bigyan ng pagkain, maayos na masisilungan, at huwag hayaang magkumpol-kumpol para rin maiwasan ang lalong pagkalat ng sakit ,’’ Go said. (Let’s help our countrymen who are finding ways to get home to their provinces. Let’s provide them an orderly system so they do not have to wait for transportation at the terminals. Let’s take care of them, provide them food and shelter, and let them observe social distancing to avoid the spread of the disease.)
Go called on concerned government agencies to raise public awareness on other similar existing government initiatives that could help stranded Filipinos return home in a manner that will not risk spreading the disease to other communities.
President Duterte had earlier directed all concerned agencies to help LSIs return home, saying: “Mga Pilipino ito, mga kababayan natin. Tanggapin ninyo (they are Filipinos, our countrymen. Accept them.) and provide sequestration houses…dun sila i-quarantine (and quarantine them there). Hati tayo sa problema tutal hindi naman kami nagkulang (Let’s share the problem, anyway we did not fail) . Whatever you need, we will provide. Kawawa naman. Tulungan ninyo ang mga Pilipino (We pity them. Let us help our countrymen.)
Go’s office recently extended aid to individuals stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) due to limited flights of airline companies because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I have talked to many of them. They are tired and frightened but also extremely grateful for the efforts of both the government and private individuals who helped so that they can return to their families,” he said.
Go’s office also sought assistance from the Pasay City local government which promptly sent tents and chairs that were used as temporary shelter by the stranded individuals near NAIA.
The senator from Davao said his office staff coordinated with concerned agencies and an airline company to arrange a flight for 162 passengers bound for General Santos City and Davao City. The airline company required a minimum number of persons on board in order to fly.
The senator’s staff also distributed meals and grocery packs to the stranded passengers while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gave additional assistance and financial aid through its applicable existing programs.
Go wished the travelers well in a personal call before their flight on June 12.
He also emphasized the importance of proper coordination with receiving local government units. For example, General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera had issued a certificate permitting the airline to land at the General Santos International Airport where 76 individuals bound for Davao City would be collected by the Davao City local government.
All returning passengers underwent rapid testing for COVID-19 at the Villamor Air Base before they were allowed to travel. They went through a second screening at the General Santos International Airport upon arrival and were made to observe the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine by their local government units (LGUs).
Go’s office has previously assisted other LSIs, including 45 LSIs who were stuck in Cebu City for two months.
More LSIs are waiting for their rescheduled flights and are temporarily sheltered at the Villamor Air Base Elementary School in Pasay City and at the Philippine Army Wellness Center in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City. As a matter of protocol, they shall also undergo health screening procedures before they are transferred.
“Maraming mga health screenings na ini-implementa para masiguradong walang dalang virus ang ating mga LSIs. Paalala lang po sa mga nag-iimplementa ng Hatid Tulong initiative na siguraduhin na bawat Pilipinong tinutulungan natin ay hindi magiging dahilan ng lalong pagkalat ng sakit,’’ Go said. (Several health screenings were implemented to ensure that the LSIs will not be carrying with them the virus. Implementers of the Hatid Tulong initiative were also reminded to ensure that those being helped will not cause the spread of the disease.)
“Kaya natin ito ginagawa para matulungan at mabigyan ang maraming Pilipinong LSIs ng pagkakataong makauwi dahil matagal na rin nilang hindi nakapiling ang kanilang mga pamilya. Karamihan dito nawalan pa ng mga trabaho,’’ he added. (We are doing this in order to help and provide the Filipino LSIs the opportunity to go home because they’ve been away from their loved ones for a long time. Most of them have lost their jobs.)
Not to be confused with the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program, Hatid Tulong is a government initiative implemented to help individuals, tourists, students, and overseas Filipino workers who were locally stranded by the outbreak to return to their hometowns.
This is a joint effort by concerned agencies, such as the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and its attached agencies, the Department of Tourism (DOT), DSWD, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
“Para po sa kaalaman ng lahat, magkaibang programa ang Hatid Tulong at BP2. Ang Hatid Tulong po ay para sa mga Pilipinong stranded, hindi taga Maynila, at kailangan nang umuwi sa kanilang probinsya,’’ Go explained. (For the information of everybody, Hatid Tulong and BP2 are two different programs. The Hatid Tulong is for stranded Filipinos who are not from Manila, and they need to go home to their respective provinces.)
“Ang BP2 naman ay para sa mga residente ng Metro Manila na gustong bumalik na at magsimula ng bagong buhay sa kanilang mga probinsya pagkatapos ng health crisis na kinakaharap natin,’’ he explained. (The BP2, on the other hand, is for the residents of Metro Manila who want to return to and start new lives in their respective provinces due to the health crisis that we’re currently facing.)
In a recent pronouncement, BP2 Executive Director and National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. said that the BP2 council decided to reschedule the subsequent rollouts of BP2 beneficiaries in order for government agencies to prioritize the Hatid Tulong program.
“As a matter of strategy, we decided to suspend the roll outs for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa to give way… Unahin natin (We will prioritize) [the Hatid Tulong] since this was a very clear instruction from the President: unahin [at] pauwiin ang mga kababayan na stranded dito sa Maynila (We will start [and] bring home our countrymen who are stranded here in Manila),” Escalada said.
“Pagdating ng panahon na tapos na itong mga problema ng stranded (After the problem of the stranded), the Balik Probinsya will now take the second phase already in the succeeding roll outs and simultaneous roll outs to all the provinces of their choice,” Escalada added.