MANILA — Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has on Monday, 15 June 2020 urged concerned government agencies to work together to assist Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) who are hard-pressed finding ways to get home to their provinces amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“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 appealed.

Concerned over the condition of many LSIs, Go called on concerned government agencies to raise public awareness on other similar existing government initiatives that can help stranded Filipinos return home in a manner that will not risk spreading the disease to other communities.

“Umaapela po ako sa mga ahensya ng gobyerno na ipaliwanag ang iba’t ibang programa ng gobyerno na pwedeng makatulong sa mga gustong umuwi sa kanilang mga probinsya at kung ano ang proseso na kailangang sundin,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte previously directed all concerned agencies to help LSIs return home saying, “mga Pilipino ito, mga kababayan natin. Tanggapin ninyo and provide sequestration houses… dun sila i-quarantine. Hati tayo sa problema tutal hindi naman kami nagkulang. Whatever you need, we will provide. Kawawa naman. Tulungan ninyo ang mga Pilipino,” said the President.

In the meantime, Go’s office recently extended aid to individuals stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Frequency of flights of airline companies had been limited due to 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,” the Senator 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. 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 staff also distributed meals and grocery packs to the stranded passengers while the Department of Social Welfare and Development gave additional assistance and financial aid through its applicable existing programs.

Senator 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 being 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 unit.

Go’s office has previously assisted other LSIs, including 45 LSIs who remained 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,” said Go, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

“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 continued.

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 left locally stranded by the outbreak return to their hometowns. This is a joint effort by concerned agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and its attached agencies, Department of Tourism, DSWD, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, among others.

“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.

“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 continued.

In a recent pronouncement, BP2 Executive Director and National Housing Authority 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 na suspend muna ang ating roll outs for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa to give way… Unahin natin [ang Hatid Tulong] kasi this was a very clear instruction from the President: unahin [at] pauwiin ang mga kababayan na stranded dito sa Maynila,” Escalada said.

“Pagdating ng panahon na tapos na itong mga problema ng 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. (ia//PRIB)