BOUND FOR MINDANAO. Locally stranded individuals bound for Mindanao provinces board a bus at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex on Saturday (July 25, 2020). Under the Hatid Tulong Program, the government provides free transportation, financial assistance amounting to PHP2,000, and food packs for the LSIs during their trips. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)
MANILA – Over 3,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) were sent off to their respective provinces in Mindanao under the government’s “Hatid Tulong” Program.
Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo said the government is expecting to help more than 8,000 LSIs (pre-registered and walk-in applicants) this weekend.
“As of this date, we already have 7,500 confirmed LSIs and we are still expecting more walk-ins in our two-day send-off activity,” said in an interview Encabo, also the lead convenor of the program.
Encabo said the Hatid Tulong secretariat will also accept walk-in applications but they would have to wait until all the pre-registered applicants would have completed processing their scheduled departure.
“Those walk-in applicants will undergo processing with the program’s secretariat. Uunahin lang natin yung mga pre-registered applicants (We will cater the pre-registered applicants first),” he said.
Challenges, health measures
Encabo, meanwhile, said the challenges on the number of vehicles for the LSIs remain a concern for the government.
“We are partnering with the private agencies and private sector to provide support for the government in terms of transporting them [LSIs],” he said.
Encabo said the health protocols and guidelines are still in place amid the heavy influx of the LSIs during the Hatid Tulong program’s second wave send-off on July 25.
He said the technical working group (TWG) of the program is aware that the physical distancing among LSIs is compromised.
“Aware naman po kami sa social distancing issue, pero kailangan po namin mag-decide na papasukin ang mga tao na ito dahil kawawang-kawawa po sila sa kalsada. At sa sobrang dami po nawala na yung social distancing (We are aware of the social distancing issue, but we have to decide to let these people enter here because they are in bad shape while on the streets. With so many people, social distancing is compromised),” he said.
He said the program’s TWG is trying its best to facilitate the maintenance of the physical distancing among the LSIs.
“Pero sana po maintindihan po nila na kapag hinayaan lang din natin ang mga tao sa kalsada, walang tamang palikuran, walang tamang lugar ng kainan at kung sila’y uulanin–ganun din ang mangyayari, magkukumpol-kumpol sila sa eskinita at talagang yung relevance rin ng social distancing ay nawawala (I hope they would understand that if we let these people wander on the streets, without toilet room, with no proper place to eat and when the bad weather comes–it would go the same thing, they would assemble in one place and the relevance of the social distancing will also be compromised),” he lamented.
Out of compassion, Encabo said the program’s TWG allowed the LSIs to stay inside the Philippine Sports Commission’s (PSC) Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
It is much better to house the LSIs inside the complex than to leave them wandering in the streets without a place to stay with where they can possibly get sick over the weather changing, he added.
“We decided to temporarily house them here [complex] so that when the rain comes, they wouldn’t get wet and we don’t want the children, pregnant women, and elderly to get sick by staying in the streets,” he said.
Encabo said the LSIs could at least feel much comfortable staying at the complex than roaming around the streets while waiting for their departure going back to their provinces.
Covid-19 tests for LSIs
Meanwhile, Encabo said the stringent health protocols to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are still in place during the Hatid Tulong program, to avoid local transmission among the LSIs.
LSIs underwent rapid testing for Covid-19 before they boarded the vehicle.
Those LSIs who test positive for dreaded disease during the rapid testing will immediately undergo confirmatory swab testing, Encabo said.
“The LSI will be isolated for 14-days in the government’s quarantine facility if the swab test resulted positive. If the LSI tests negative during confirmatory swab testing, we will allow them to go home,” he said.
Based on the secretariat’s initial list, around 3,000 LSIs bound for provinces in Mindanao are scheduled to travel on Saturday, these include 618 LSIs from Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula), 205 LSIs from Region 10 (Northern Mindanao), 767 LSIs from Region 11 (Davao Region), 805 LSIs from Region 12 (SOCCSKSARGEN), and 1, 378 LSIs from Region 13 (Caraga).
The 14-day moratorium for the Caraga Region is already lifted as per the approval of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID), Encabo said.
“The local government units in Caraga are now equipped to accept LSIs and they should not deny entry of LSIs within their provinces,” he added.
The government also provides financial assistance amounting to PHP2,000 and food packages for the LSIs during their trips.
The Hatid Tulong program is a whole of nation approach which intend to assist individuals stranded in Metro Manila who were affected by the lockdowns imposed during the enhanced community quarantine. (PNA)