MANILA – The government is “polishing” health and safety protocols for the return of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) to their respective hometowns, Malacañang said over the weekend.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after several lawmakers from Eastern Visayas called for a review of the government’s Hatid Probinsya (Hatid Tulong) program and the health protocols being implemented for LSIs.

Twelve lawmakers from Eastern Visayas made the call in light of the rising number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in their region.

The joint statement was signed by House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez; Northern Samar Reps. Paul Ruiz Daza and Jose Ong Jr.; Western Samar Reps. Edgar Sarmiento and Sharee Tan; Leyte Reps. Lucy Torres-Gomez, Carl Cari, and Vicente Veloso; Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado; Eastern Samar Rep. Maria Fe Abunda; Biliran Rep. Gerardo Espina Jr.; and Tingog Party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez.

“Talagang nirerepaso at binubuo natin ang polisiya para sa locally stranded individuals dahil ang ating mga existing protocols ay para po sa mga returning [overseas Filipino workers] at overseas Filipinos ‘no (We are really polishing and completing the policy for locally stranded individuals because our existing protocols are for returning OFWs and OFs),” Roque said in a Laging Handa public briefing on Saturday.

Roque said that aside from ensuring that all LSIs will be issued with medical certificates before they are allowed to return to their homes, their respective local government units must also have the capability to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.

“Napagkasunduan na kapag dumating na po iyong mga in-order nating mga PCR testing kits ay puwede naman pong i-subject din sa PCR testing ang mga pauwi na mga locally stranded individuals (It was agreed that once the PCR testing kits arrive, LSIs can also be subjected to PCR testing),” he said.

Earlier, the National Task Force on coronavirus disease (NTF Covid-19) disclosed that they will temporarily regulate the Hatid Probinsya (Hatid Tulong) program.

Galvez said the NTF was already “polishing” the process of virus-free LSIs back to their homes.

To date, 30,495 LSIs have already been assisted to return to their provinces, Galvez said.

Around 54,260 OFWs and seafarers have been assisted since the Hatid Probinsya (Hatid Tulong) program has started, he added.

Hatid Probinsya (Hatid Tulong), different from Balik Probinsya, is a short-term humanitarian effort to assist residents stranded in Metro Manila and other areas due to travel restrictions imposed during the quarantine period.

On the other hand, Balik Probinsya program is a long-term program of the government intended for Metro Manila residents who want to return to their provinces “for good.” (PNA)