As the initial phase of the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Program commences, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go reminded the government to immediately help all stranded individuals and families in Metro Manila and other urban centers and safeguard their welfare and well-being amid the COVID-19 situation.

“Marami po sa ating mga kababayan mula probinsya at nagpunta rito sa Metro Manila ang nais na ngayong umuwi. Tulungan po natin silang makabalik lahat sa tulong nitong BP2 program at iba pang inisyatibo ng gobyerno,” Go said.

“Nadala na po sila sa Metro Manila. Takot sila dahil sa virus at nais na nilang makauwi sa kanila. Siguraduhin po natin na makababalik sila ng kanilang probinsya na ligtas,” he added.

Among those who are included in the first batch of individuals who will be assisted to return to their provinces under BP2 program include 112 persons traveling alone bound for Leyte. The first batch is part of the immediate-phase implementation of the BP2 program, according to National Housing Authority General Manager and BP2 Program Council Executive Director Marcelino Escalada, Jr. The first batch is scheduled to leave early this week.

“Our target is 100 to 300 leaving for the provinces depending upon the capacity of the local government units to undertake health protocols,” Escalada added.

Based on an update relayed by Escalada, transportation needs will be provided or facilitated by the Department of Transportation while cash allowances will be extended to them by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. A dispatch protocol will also be prepared by the Department of Health to ensure that strict COVID-19 precautionary measures are followed during their return. All and succeeding returnees will be subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test by the DOH.

According to Escalada, NHA is preparing a dispatch site for the returnees. For initial batch, NHA is utilizing its property near Vertis North in Quezon City where a temporary terminal will be installed. The Department of the Interior and Local Government will link up with the target LGUs to receive them and ensure that their other needs are met. All concerned government agencies will extend other needed assistance to the returnees upon arrival in the province based on their profile and assessment.

Returnees to Leyte are prioritized since the province has registered the highest number of individuals who signified readiness to return at 2,300 persons. Once they have been successfully brought back to Leyte, the program will have simultaneous trips to provinces throughout Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

Meanwhile, 55 individuals in Cebu are also expected to return to Davao City by next week too under BP2 program. These include eighteen students, 21 people with disability, two senior citizens, a pregnant woman, and thirteen other individuals.

They have been tested by DOH for COVID-19 and will be given food by DSWD while they wait for their departure schedule.

The Office of Senator Bong Go has also assisted in coordinating with appropriate agencies regarding identification of beneficiaries, and provision of the needs of the returnees, such as food and transportation. The issuance of the clearance in their port of destination was also facilitated.

As the BP2 program assists more and more Filipinos going back to their provinces, Go emphasized that the whole country should learn from the experiences encountered during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly the difficulties in controlling the spread of the disease and the challenges of delivering government services in overpopulated urban centers.

“Sa Bisaya, ‘natagam’, o nadala na tayo. Let this be a learning experience for us all,” Go said, emphasizing the need to provide long-term solutions to better address various social, economic, and health issues in the future.

According to Go, these affected individuals only wanted to seek better opportunities in Metro Manila. Some are students from the provinces who wanted to take their education in big cities. Because of the stringent travel restrictions under the enhanced community quarantine, these people were cut off from their families for two months now.

“We have to act now. Marami nang gustong umuwi pagkatapos ng naranasan nila dahil sa COVID-19. Kaya inilunsad ang programang ito ngayon para matulungan sila ng gobyerno at mabigyan sila ng mas maayos na buhay kung pipiliin nilang bumalik sa kanilang mga probinsya,” he said stressing that it is an opportune time to implement the BP2 program now given the adverse socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis to the lives of all Filipinos.

Go emphasized that the initiative should be seen as a long-term, holistic program to address perennial problems in both urban and rural areas and not simply just as an immediate response to the crisis.

“Hindi po natin basta ililipat lang ang mga tao from urban to rural areas. Wala po itong pilitan. Sinisiguro ng gobyerno na magiging maayos ang kabuhayan ng mga taong lilipat. Kaya po nagtayo ng inter-agency council. Para masigurong lahat ng aspeto ng buhay ng mga Pilipino ay mapaghandaan,” he explained.

“Sa short-term, nais po ng programang ito na tulungan bumangon muli ang kabuhayan ng mga gusto na bumalik sa kanilang probinsya. Sa mid- to long-term phase naman, holistic ang approach pagdating sa pagsasaayos ng mga essential public services sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa, tulad ng education, housing, livelihood and health. Kasama rito ang pagpapalago ng ekonomiya sa mga probinsya,” he added.

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