SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 24 June) – Fetching home locally stranded individuals (LSIs) through the “Hatid Probinsya” program was temporarily stopped in Caraga Region in the wake of rising positive cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-IED) has decided for a moratorium of Caraga-bound flights, mercy voyages and all forms of transportation limited to LSIs only from June 22 to July 4.
The move was in response to Resolution No. 41 of Caraga Regional IATF-EID which asked the national IATF-EID to impose the moratorium of sweeper flights, mercy voyages and all modes of transportation for ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos) and LSIs after their influx has started to reach to 5,994.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who also sits as Caraga Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security, told Agusan del Norte Gov. Dale Corvera , regional chairperson of Regional Task Force Against COVID-19 One Caraga Shield, that the national IATF-EID has allowed the moratorium only for LSIs pending accreditation of the region’s proposed COVID-19 laboratory testing centers.
The approval of the moratorium came when Caraga has recorded a rapid increase of COVID-19 positive cases to 87 as of June 20, a tenfold spike in barely three weeks from just eight cases.
Charito Plaza, director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) who helped facilitate the travel home of some 2,200 LSIs and ROFs in Caraga, was disheartened to learn the sudden halt of the “Hatid Probinsya” program, saying there are still more than 500 remaining Caraga residents scheduled to return home on June 27.
She said the effort to bring home stranded Caraga residents in Metro Manila and Cebu was a joint effort of PEZA, partner private firms, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration for ROFs and Department of Tourism for LSIs.
Plaza criticized local officials in Caraga for blaming the program on the spike of COVID-19 positive cases, saying the local government units (LGUs) were just not really prepared to facilitate their returning residents after more than three months of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Some LGUs are good and medical monitoring are good but many others badly need improvement,” she said, adding that “it’s unfair and unfounded to blame us for bringing the OFWs and LSIs as COVID-19 carriers in Caraga.”
Plaza, who hails from Butuan City, questioned why the LGUs in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City facilitated and welcomed their returning residents while the Caraga local officials could not do it.
“From the very start most LGUs in Caraga never wanted OFWs and LSIs to go home so that there never was a show of interest and concern to their sad plight,” she noted.
Plaza refuted the Regional IATF claim of the rising cases attributed to the massive influx of returning residents, citing figures of LSIs who availed of sweeper flights and mercy voyages from Manila and Cebu and arrived at the Butuan’s Bancasi Airport and Nasipit Seaport from May 26 to June 20 which recorded only 18 COVID-19 positive cases from 1,311 passengers. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)