Gov't vows safe return of 5,300 Filipinos trapped in Sabah

Published June 27, 2020, 7:40 PM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Martin Sadongdong

The national government has expressed readiness in repatriating around 5,300 Filipinos trapped in Sabah, Malaysia, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez Jr. (OPAPP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez Jr.

In a statement on Saturday, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19, said a plan of action was made by the Inter-Agency Task Group Western Mindanao-Management of Returning Filipinos from Sabah (IATGWM-MREFS) to facilitate the safe arrival of the trapped Filipinos beginning Junen 30.

Galvez said 1,538 Filipinos have already completed their travel documents ahead of their scheduled trip.

To carry out the program, the government has partnered with Zamboanga-based Aleson Shipping Lines for the transport the Filipino returnees, using the latter’s vessel, he said.

Prior to departure from Sabah, the returnees will undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing to determine if they are infected or not with the disease, Galvez said.

Each ship will only accommodate 400 passengers, half of the vessel’s total capacity, to ensure that social distancing is observed.

“The returnees will disembark [in] Zamboanga City before being ferried to their respective provinces. Their receiving local government unit (LGU) may subject them to further quarantine procedures,” Galvez said.

According to the chief implementer, 50 percent of the Filipino repatriates are bound for Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, 30 percent are headed for Zamboanga Peninsula, and the remaining 20 percent will return to other parts of the country.

The IATGWM-MREFS was created as a result of a multi-pronged effort by various government agencies tasked to oversee the repatriation of the Filipinos from Sabah.

It is composed of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), Bureau of Quarantine, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The repatriation program will be led by the DSWD in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and in Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9).

Meanwhile, the member-agencies are clustered according to their focus areas namely international humanitarian assistance; transportation and logistics; customs, immigration and qurantine services (CIQS); law and order; health; social services; and strategic communications.

As this developed, Galvez also delivered various machines to Zamboanga City for the testing laboratory being built by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

The new COVID-19 testing laboratory will be able to hold 2,000 tests per day once finished, he said.