BREAKING GROUND. Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Public Works Minister Architect Eduard Guerra (right) and Basilan Governor Jim Hataman during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a 100-bed capacity isolation facility in the province on Thursday (July 23, 2020). Three more isolation facilities are up for construction in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur to accommodate the increasing number of homecoming locally stranded individuals and returning overseas Filipinos in the region. (Photo courtesy of BPI-BARMM)

COTABATO CITY – Construction work of four more 100-bed coronavirus disease (Covid-19) isolation facilities in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi started this week.

“This is to accommodate the increasing number of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and returning overseas Filipino workers (ROFs) in the region, as well as Filipino returnees from Sabah, Malaysia,” Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said.

Sinarimbo, together with BARMM Social Services Minister Raisa Jajurie, and Public Works Minister Architect Eduard Guerra, led the groundbreaking ceremony of the facilities in the four provinces from July 20 to 23.

During a speech on Wednesday before regional lawmakers, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said the increase of Covid-confirmed cases in the region can be associated with the arrival of ROFs and LSIs.

As of July 16, 2020, the regional government has facilitated the homecoming of 15,184 ROFs, LSIs, and returnees from Sabah, he said.

“Generally speaking, we still have enough isolation facilities in the region but in some critical areas, we are already reaching the maximum capacity," Ebrahim said.

In anticipation of the influx of more LSIs and ROFs, he said BARMM has to build more isolation facilities similar to the BARMM-funded Covid-19 patient care center at the Cotabato Sanitarium Hospital (CSH) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The PHP21-million, 100-bed capacity isolation facility at the CSH, which was launched on May 28, was completed in just 40 days through the BARMM’s Ministry of Public Works.

Ebrahim said despite the challenges brought by the sudden increase of confirmed cases associated with the LSIs and ROFs, the BARMM remains committed “in bringing these people home."

"We shall continue to cater to their immediate needs. After all, they are our people,” he said.

Ebrahim said proper and prior coordination from all levels of governance -- between the national government, the BARMM, and its local government units -- must be in place in handling the returnees.

"This is to avoid another incident like that of the BaSulTa (Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi) bound LSIs who were brought to Cagayan De Oro (CDO) on July 7, 2020, and we were only informed of their arrival after they were disembarked in CDO," Ebrahim said.

At present, he said the BARMM is taking care of the needs of the BaSulTa-bound LSIs, and that proper handling and precautionary measure are in place to ensure that the spread of the virus is contained.

As of July 23, the BARMM has reported a total of 416 confirmed cases with 128 recoveries or an equivalent of 31-percent recovery rate, eight deaths, and 280 active cases. Out of the 416 cases, 331 are LSIs and 28 are ROFs. (PNA)