Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo, in-charge of the Hatid Tulong Program. (Screengrab from Laging Handa virtual presser)

MANILA – The government expects to transport more than 13,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) in Metro Manila to their respective provinces, Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo said Wednesday.

Encabo, in-charge of the Hatid Tulong program, said the government continues to serve individuals stranded in Metro Manila who were affected by the lockdown imposed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"Ongoing po ang ating assistance sa kanila at patuloy po kaming nakikipag-ugnayan din sa mga kasamahan po natin sa iba't-ibang ahensya ng gobyerno (There is ongoing assistance being provided to them and we continue to coordinate with our colleagues in various government line-agencies)," he said in an interview at the Laging Handa virtual presser.

More than 53,000 stranded individuals, he said, have already benefited from the Hatid-Tulong program of the government.

The primary obligation of the national government, he said, is to provide transportation to the stranded individuals.

The government, he added, also provides food assistance and financial support to these LSIs "considered to be in a crisis situation".

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will also provide needed assistance.

Based on the list reported by PMS, Encabo said there are still more than 13,000 LSIs who want to return to their provinces in Visayas and Mindanao.

"Yun po ay dahan-dahan natin kino-consolidate, kina-cluster at grouping para maiayos po natin ang kanilang schedules (we are slowly consolidating, clustering and grouping so we can adjust their schedules)," he said. "At the same time maidentify natin kung ano yung akmang transportasyon para sa kanila, lalung-lalo na doon sa mga bibyaheng Visayas at Mindanao (we are identifying the right transportation that fits them, especially those who are traveling to Visayas and Mindanao.)

The Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa (BP2) program was temporarily suspended to pave way for the government to assist LSIs in Metro Manila.

Through the Hatid-Tulong program, all stranded tourists, students, and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are being assisted through the provision of transportation.

Encabo said those stranded individuals near North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) were already transferred to temporary accommodation facilities located in Villamor Airbase.

"All locally stranded individuals housed in the temporary shelter at the Villamor Elementary School, College of Aeronautics and Philippine Army have slowly been transported and assisted returning back home to their provinces," he added.

These LSIs have embarked via Philippine Army's C-130 plane, he said.

"This morning, we already have transported around 50 to 60 stranded individuals bound for Mindanao," he said.

The national government, Encabo added, is closely coordinating with the local government units (LGUs) regarding the Hatid-Tulong program.

Health protocols for LSIs

Encabo said the government complies with the health protocols and preventive measures to prevent the local transmission of Covid-19.

"Pag natanggap po namin ang mga pangalan, tinitipon po namin sila at lahat po sila ay dadaan sa rapid testing (when we receive their names from the list, we gather them to undergo rapid testing)," he said.

He added that government doctors themselves facilitate rapid tests for them.

If the LSI tests negative of Covid-19, he said, the individual will be allowed to travel back home.

If the LSI tests positive, the person will immediately be transferred to a quarantine facility for a 14-day isolation period and will be subjected to a confirmatory test.

Encabo assured that prior to their travel schedules, LSIs have undergone rapid testing to ensure that they are safe from the risks of spreading the disease.

"Ang utos ko po sa kanila ay never pong pasakayin ang mga LSI na nagpositibo sa rapid testing, kapag nag-negative po ang LSI, binibigyan po namin ng impormasyon ang isang receiving LGU para kampante nilang tatanggapin at iwe-welcome ang kanilang mga constituents (The order is to never let those LSIs who tested positive during the rapid test to travel. We are providing information to the receiving LGUs whenever LSIs test negative of the disease (so) they would confidently accept and welcome their constituents)," he said.

The stranded individuals are restricted to go outside the premises of the quarantine facilities after undergoing rapid testing, he said, to further prevent the spread of the dreaded virus in the area.

Meanwhile, Encabo said some LGUs are hesitant to receive retuning LSIs to their hometowns.

Encabo said they are prioritizing the prevention of local transmission of the disease "that's why preventive measures are being imposed".

LGUs are urged to accept returning LSIs back to their communities as mandated by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), he said.

"If there's a need to repeat the subjected quarantine protocols or the Covid-19 testing among LSIs, and if there's a need to quarantine them again for 14 days, then (so) be it," Encabo added, noting that it is the right of each LSI to return back to their communities if they want to.

He said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are strictly monitoring the LGUs whether they are accepting or rejecting the returning LSIs.

Those LGUs that are rejecting the returning LSIs will be called out, he added.

Moreover, Encabo said the Hatid-Tulong program is a whole-of-government approach providing assistance to the LSIs.

Stranded OFWs are urged to coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Stranded students, on the other hand, are encouraged to coordinate with the Office of the President (OP), Presidential Management Staff (PMS), or the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

Stranded tourists, meanwhile, may coordinate with the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Encabo said a Facebook page will be launched anytime soon this week (so) that the LSIs can directly contact the PMS adminstrators/secretariat—about their concerns and requests related to the Hatid-Tulong program. (PNA)