DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 July) – At least 5,000 Mindanawons stranded in Manila during the COVID-19 lockdowns are returning to Mindanao by boat and bus this weekend via the national government’s Hatid Tulong Program.
Exactly how many left Manila on Saturday, July 25, the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) has yet to say.
“Ongoing pa ang dispatching ng Region 11 at 12,” PMS Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo, the officer in charge of the program, told MindaNews at 7:37 p.m. on Saturday.
As of 9 p.m. Encabo has not replied to the other questions sent by MindaNews.
The state-run Radyo Pilipinas, citing PMS figures, said that as of Friday, 8,118 persons bound for 13 regions nationwide had registered to avail of the free transport.
Hatid Tulong is an initiative of the Office of the President and the Department of Transportation and Communications to provide transport to LSIs who want to go home.
Radyo Pilipinas reported Saturday afternoon that based on the data of the PMS, out of 8,118 LSIs going home to different parts of the country, Caraga accounts for the highest at 2,809.
But Charito Plaza, Director General of Philippine Economic Zone Authority, a former representative of Agusan del Norte who is coordinating with the Hatid Tulong for Caraga LSIs, gave a higher figure of LSIs bound for Caraga: 3,109 (see other story).
The Radyo Pilipinas report said 1,003 are bound for Region 11 (Davao region), 751 for “Region 12 w/ BARMM;” 524 for Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula), 176 for Region 10 (Northern Mindanao).
The rest are: 66 for Region 1; 76 for Region 2; 87 for CAR; 549 for Region 4B; 150 for Region 5; 498 for Region 6; 399 for Region 7; 719 for Region 8; and from 311 from OVP.
The PMS had earlier referred to the weekend departures as “Hatid Tulong 2nd Wave Grand Send Off.”
On July 4, during the “first wave,” 405 passengers bound for Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi were offloaded din Cagayan de Oro City on July 7, at least half a day’s travel by land to Zamboanga City, the nearest port for the island provinces.
The Bangsamoro region and the governors of the island provinces were informed of the arrival of their constituents in Cagayan de Oro only when the boat had docked there.
The 405 were transported to Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao on July 9, arriving there in the early hours of July 10 where they were swabbed for the Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.
The Bangsamoro region had made arrangements with the Western Mindanao Command to bring the 405 passengers to their respective provinces on three naval boats but when the RT-PCR results came out, a total of 120 tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the regional inter-agency task force to decide all 405 would remain in Sultan Kudarat for treatment and quarantine.
Jampaccked Rizal Memorial Sports Complex
Thousands of LSIs waited for their departure at the jampacked Rizal Memorial Sports Complex of the Philippine Sports Commission in Manila, raising fears of mass infection of COVID-19 as physical distancing was obviously not followed.
Most of those waiting at the bleachers are from Mindanao.
The Philippine News Agency quoted Encabo as saying that they had to let the people enter the sports complex than leave them on the streets.
“We decided to temporarily house them here 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 passengers will undergo rapid testing before boarding the transport.
Those who test positive, he said, will be swabbed for RT-PCR (reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction) test, the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.
The 405 BaSulTa passengers during the “first wave” of Hatid Tulong on July 4, went through rapid tests in Manila.
In the early hours of July 10, when they were swabbed for RT-PCR test in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, a total of 120 tested positive for COVID-19. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)