Senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go is once again reminding concerned authorities to strictly comply with health and safety protocols as thousands of stranded Filipinos return to their provinces over the weekend under the Hatid Tulong initiative.

“Nais ko ipaalala sa lahat na hindi natin pwedeng ipagkait ang karapatan ng mga Pilipino na makauwi sa sarili nilang bayan. Sabi rin mismo ni Pangulong Duterte, ‘mga Pilipino ito, mga kababayan natin. Tanggapin ninyo. Whatever you need, we will provide. Kawawa naman. Tulungan ninyo ang mga Pilipino’,” Go said.

“Gawin lang po ito sa ligtas at tamang paraan. Sundin palagi ang health and safety protocols, at siguraduhin na maprotektahan ang mga komunidad na kanilang uuwian,” he reiterated.

Locally stranded individuals (LSIs) seeking transportation assistance flocked to Rizal Park in Manila this Saturday, July 4. They underwent a rapid anti-body test administered by health workers from the Department of Health and Philippine National Police Health Service. Registrants who passed health screening were granted a travel authority by the PNP at the venue.

“Since Hatid Tulong is a directive from the President, it is important to make sure that proper health and safety protocols are in place in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Proper coordination must also be conducted to make sure that receiving LGUs are willing and ready to accept their constituents,” Go previously reiterated.

The Senator also previously asked the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to streamline the process of transporting LSIs with necessary health and safety protocols in place to put a stop to unauthorized travels and unsanctioned initiatives carried out by LGUs and private groups which do not comply with health protocols.

The first batch, composed of over 3,000 LSIs, left for Mindanao on July 4 on board various sanctioned trips. Stranded individuals for the second batch returned to the Philippine Army gym and are scheduled to depart for their respective provinces in Luzon the following day. Upon their arrival, officials said that the returnees will be undergoing the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine and a rapid testing for COVID-19.

In a video message, Go wished the LSIs a safe travel back to their families. “Ginagawa ang lahat ng gobyerno…na makabyahe kayo ng safe at makauwi sa inyong mga bahay at makasamang muli ang inyong mga pamilyang matagal ninyo nang hindi nakita. Nananalangin ako na sana ay maging maayos din ang inyong byahe. Basta kami ni Presidente Duterte, palaging handa kaming magserbisyo sa inyo sa abot ng aming makakaya. Ingat kayong lahat. Mahal namin kayo,” the Senator said in Bisaya.

“Pagdating nila sa kanilang LGU, isa-submit sila sa quarantine facility doon… aayusin rin muna natin ‘yung schedule… Hindi papayagan kasi nagkakaipon-ipon…,” explained Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who also supervised the entire activity.

In an interview with the press, Vice Admiral George Ursabia Jr., Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard reassured the public that proper protocols were observed aboard their vessels.

“So, nandiyan ang 2Go sa batch na ito para magdala ng mga LSIs bound to Mindanao. Pero ‘yung offshore patrol vessel namin nakahanda ‘yon para kung ano ‘yung natitira na LSIs for Visayas and Mindanao siya rin ‘yung magdadala ng mga LSIs,” he said.

”Yes, [the protocols are] strictly observed para rin sa safety ng mga crew namin at meron kaming medical teams onboard. May doctors kami to make sure na handa kami in case mayroong medical attention ang ilang LSIs diyan,” he continued.

Go’s Senate office extended assistance to stranded individuals. “’Yung opisina ni Senator Bong Go nagbigay ng food assistance, ang DSWD naman (nagbigay ng) financial assistance at ang Office of the President mayroon ding food assistance o food packs para sa mga stranded… It’s a holistic government approach,” Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo of the Presidential Management Staff Office said who was also present during the activity.

The Hatid Tulong Program is a joint initiative of the Office of the President, COVID-19 National Task Force, Department of Transportation and various other agencies. As of July 2, 2020, it has provided assistance to a total of 62,762 overseas Filipino workers and other stranded individuals—18,320 of which were transported by land; 24,523 via air transport; and 19,919 via sea transport. The program was launched in response to a directive by President Rodrigo Duterte to help locally stranded individuals, OFWs and other affected Filipinos who were locked down in Metro Manila due to quarantine measures.

“It’s unacceptable that our countrymen could not go home. It is their right to go home, to live or die there. You can’t deny that from Filipinos,” the President said in a previous address, sternly reminding local government units to accept all returning residents.

“Nandito sila sa Maynila, nakakalungkot ni C.R., ni higaan wala silang mapuntahan dahil ito po ang mga taong nagbaka-sakaling maghanap ng trabaho dito sa Metro Manila, inabutan ng lockdown. Marami po ‘yan kawawa po, dapat lang na tulungan silang makauwi sa kanilang mga pamilya sa ligtas na paraan,” Go also explained.

Go also urged the involved agencies to adopt the systematic single dispatch system similar to the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program which was also suggested by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año: “Ang Balik Probinsiya po ay isang magandang huwaran dahil itong Balik Probinsya organized po eh. Pag-alis pa lang dito sa Manila, alam na ng LGU (local government unit) na ilan ang darating, sasalubungin nila, diretso sa quarantine. Maayos ang lahat, wala pong nakakalusot.”

“The ‘single dispatch’ system adopted by the BP2 implementers for people in the provinces is good because it’s more controlled and travelers will be able to avoid exposure and possible infection,” Go concurred.

Go and several other officials have previously clarified that the BP2 Program has been temporarily put on hold to give way to the more urgent Hatid Tulong initiatives.

“Ang Balik Probinsya Program ay iba sa Hatid Tulong. Ang Balik Probinsya ay para sa mga taga Metro Manila na gustong bumalik na sa probinsya pagkatapos ng krisis upang doon na magsimulang muli na may pag-asa. Meron itong short-term and long-term plans. Ang Hatid Tulong naman ay para lang ‘yan sa mga hindi taga Metro Manila, para ‘yan sa mga taga probinsya na naipit lang dito sa Kamaynilaan dahil sa quarantine, subalit kailangan ding tulungang makauwi,” Go explained.

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