MANILA – The government has suspended Thursday the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program and would focus on giving assistance to stranded individuals in Metro Manila amid quarantine restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

National Housing Authority General Manager and BP2 Executive Director Marcelino Escalada made this announcement in a Laging Handa briefing, saying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), tourists, students and construction workers, among others, were stranded in the city when President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of public health emergency and placed the entire Luzon under community quarantine.

“These are all people in Metro Manila na temporary lang sila nandito (who are temporarily here), because there is an absence of transportation system. Walang eroplano, walang barko, walang bus therefore na-strand sila dito, and government naman (There are no flights, sea travels or bus, therefore they were stranded here) as a matter of our responsibility to the people, sabi natin rather than magutom sila dito sa Maynila, walang pagkain, walang hotel, sobrang mahal (rather than go hungry here, no food and hotels are expensive), so the government made an initiative which we call Hatid Tulong,” Escalada said.

He added that the “Hatid Tulong” program is a simple assistance for stranded individuals in Metro Manila, saying these people need more urgent help compared to BP2 beneficiaries.

“As a matter of urgency and importance, mas malaki ang importansya for Hatid Tulong kasi ito yung mga tao na walang bahay (the Hatid Tulong is more important because they do not have a house here) at walang (and not) enough capacity to finance their stay here in Metro Manila, whereas the Balik Probinsya may sariling bahay (most have houses here) either rented houses or owned houses,” he said.

Escalada said as a matter of strategy, they decided to temporarily suspend the rollout for the BP2 and give way to Hatid Tulong.

He added that it is very clear from the instructions of President Duterte to bring home first those stranded in the city.

When the public transportation system fully resumes, he said, then that would be the time they will continue with the BP2, as is it a long-term intervention program for those who want to go back to their provinces for good as the government pushes for the development of the countryside, pursuant to Executive Order 114.

Health and security measures

Escalada said measures being done both under the Hatid Tulong and Balik Probinsya programs are in compliance with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) guidelines and adhere to required health protocols such as medical certificates, travel authorities and rapid tests for Covid-19.

He assured local executives that before departure, these individuals have duly complied with the tests and clearance requirements.

Escalada added that for BP2, they are now requiring an official communication coming from the provincial governors and mayors where the beneficiaries are returning, stating that the province is ready to receive and accept their own constituents.

“Para lang din (this is) to see that while the national government is ready on one hand, on the other hand, local government unit is also ready to receive their own constituents, so that is a matter right now approved by the BP2 council that a letter of request and intent, a formal request will be filed or submitted by the BP2 council thru the office of the executive director,” he said.

The BP2 scheduled June 11 for Leyte, June 16 for Camarines Sur and June 17 for Zamboanga Norte were all suspended for the meantime. (PNA)