MANILA – There are no more locally stranded individuals (LSIs) under the NAIA Expressway affected by the reduced availability of public transport across the country, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this assurance, saying he passed by the expressway himself to check on the government’s effort to send LSIs back to their respective homes.

“There’s no one under the expressway now. I have to walk the talk, when I announce that they will be relocated, I need to make sure that they were in fact relocated,” he said in an interview in ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart.

Roque admitted that he did see a crowd during his first visit to the expressway, but during his second visit, it was already empty.

“I went twice. The first time I saw the crowd I told my wife we should get permission from the Pasay local government that we should give them food but we did not have to because by the time I returned they were gone,” he said.

He also expressed doubts over survey results released by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), that around 4.1 million Filipinos were left stranded due to the community quarantine.

“I doubt if that’s true because the phenomena of locally stranded individuals became a problem after we had some commercial flights which were in fact canceled. And I don’t think we had that much flights to result in 4.1 million stranded individuals,” he said.

Last week, Malacañang vowed to assist all LSIs following the death of Michelle Silvertino, a woman who died while trying to get a bus ride to Bicol.

Silvertino, who worked as a housemaid in Antipolo, Rizal, reportedly stayed on a footbridge along Edsa in Pasay City for five days after walking from Cubao, Quezon City.

She was found unconscious by a concerned citizen on June 5 and was rushed to the Pasay General Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The Palace official, meanwhile, urged LSIs seeking government assistance to contact the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Crisis Intervention Unit at 8734-8635.

More public transport

With Metro Manila remaining under general community quarantine (GCQ) until June 30, Roque said he would have to “verify” with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) whether phase 2 of the resumption of public transport would resume.

“I just don’t know if they will proceed with the second phase because of the assumption that we were going to be downgraded to MGCQ [modified GCQ]. So I’d have to verify if DOTr will proceed with its phase 2,” he said.

The DOTr will roll out the second phase of public transport, which allows public utility buses (PUBs), modern public utility vehicles (PUVs), and UV Express with limited passenger capacity from June 22-30, 2020.

During the first phase from June 1-21, 2020, only train and bus augmentation, bus augmentation units, taxis and Transport Network Vehicle Service (TNVS), shuttle services, point-to-point buses, and bicycles are allowed.

Balik Probinsya to resume

Despite being temporarily suspended, Roque assured that the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program will return “soon.”

Roque said the program could resume since the government has already sent home LSIs.

Last week, he said 764 LSIs have been transferred to Villamor Airbase Elementary School and the Philippine State College of Aeronautics according to data from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

“As a matter of government policy it will continue. I’m not sure when, but now that the problem of locally standard individuals will be addressed, it will be resumed soon,” he said.

Roque urged Vice President Leni Robredo to suggest solutions to the alleged “lack of coordination” between national and local government units over the program in terms of sending home the BP2’s beneficiaries.

He, however, acknowledged the problem that lies in the nature of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which makes it necessary for LGUs to also conduct again facility-based quarantine and testing of arrivals.

“If you’re tested now, you can test negative and a few days later you could test positive. So what we’re doing now is in addition to the testing being done in Metro Manila, which is PCR [polymerase chain reaction], before being sent to the provinces, we have developed also the capability of the local government units outside of Manila to conduct their own PCR test,” he said.

Balik Probinsiya program executive director Marcelino Escalada Jr. earlier said they decided to suspend the program to focus on bringing home LSIs.

Escalada said deployment might resume next month if the number of stranded persons going to provinces decreases.

To date, some 79,000 individuals have enrolled online for the BP2 program while a hundred have been sent home.

The BP2 program, a pet project of President Rodrigo Duterte’s former aide and now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go seeks to decongest Metro Manila, which is home to 12.87 million Filipinos. (PNA)