South Cotabato prepares for arrival of more returning residents

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 10 July) – The provincial government of South Cotabato has stepped up preparations for the arrival of more stranded residents from Metro Manila and other regions in the coming weeks through the national government’s Hatid Tulong program.

Analiz Cabrido, team leader of the local government’s Balik Probinsya program, said Friday they received confirmation that another batch of returning residents is scheduled to be ferried home aboard passenger buses from the Quirino grandstand in Manila on July 17.

She said at least 50 buses will bring home the additional repatriates from parts of Region 12 or Soccsksargen, including South Cotabato.

The South Cotabato provincial capitol in Koronadal City. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

On Tuesday and Wednesday, she said a total of 155 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and locally-stranded individuals (LSI), including children, arrived in the province from Manila through Hatid Tulong.

These were part of the over 500 stranded individuals from Soccsksargen who were catered by Partas passenger buses commissioned by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Presidential Management Staff.

Cabrido, who led the province’s team that fetched the repatriates from the drop-off point in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat, said that most of the passengers were poor residents who could not afford to pay for air and sea travels.

She cited the case of at least 30 construction workers from T’boli town who had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

All passengers were provided with food supplies and financial assistance of P2,000 from the government for the three-day land travel.

“It (Hatid Tulong) was really a big help since it benefited indigent residents who had been really trying to go home but were constrained financially,” she said in an interview.

Cabrido said the repatriates included OFWs who were stranded for three to four months in Metro Manila due to the enhanced community quarantine.

There were families who decided to relocate or return home to the province for good after living in Metro Manila for several years, she said.

“We can see on their faces that they were really tired because of the long travel but at the same time relieved and just happy to be back home,” she said.

Cabrido said that upon arrival, the repatriates were properly screened and subjected to a second rapid antibody testing.

They were earlier given clearance to travel from Manila after turning out negative in the initial rapid test.

She said all of them were then brought to the designated municipal and city isolation facilities to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Cabrido said they were also registered with the province’s localized Covid-19 contact-tracing system.

“We’re making sure that none of them will have contact with anyone from the public. Rest assured that we are strictly following these protocols to ensure that our communities will remain protected from Covid-19,” she said.

As of Thursday, the provincial government already assisted over 2,500 returning residents, with around 500 composed of OFWs while the rest were LSIs. (MindaNews)