Catandunganons and mainlanders alike who are stranded on both sides of the Maqueda Channel would have to remain in their places until the end of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) imposed by the national government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) put its foot down on efforts to reunite the stranded passengers and workers with their families.
Through Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, the department advised the strandees to stop returning to their home provinces and remain in their current locations since they could be carriers of the new coronavirus disease.
He warned that their insistence on returning to their places could pose health risks to their families.
“Huwag muna kayo umuwi at dagdag pa sa problema ng mga local government units dun sa mga dinadaanan niyong lugar,” he said during a briefing, adding that law enforcers would strictly implement the guidelines at checkpoints.
It may be recalled that last March 26, the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease directed local chief executives to fetch their respective constituents at the borders, ports or facilities and provide transportation to bring them back.
It told LGUs to enforce social distancing among the returnees and consider them as Persons Under Monitoring (PUMs) subject to a 14-day quarantine.
The task force was prompted to grant the exemption to outbound passengers, based on humanitatian considerations, after learning that several passengers and displaced workers were stranded at borders and in various ports in Bicol.
These included 16 construction workers from Albay employed at projects in Virac and more than 30 workers from Catanhduanes who had to leave their construction site in Daet, Camarines Norte where a mall is being built. Unconfirmed reports claim that a busload of stranded Overseas Filipino Workers from the island is also included in the list.
Following the Bicol IATF order, local chief executives in Catanduanes met Saturday at the provincial capitol and unanimously decided not to allow any more additional stranded passengers to travel to the island.
Asking the task force to set aside its order, Acting Governor Shirley Abundo and the mayors of Virac, Bagamanoc, Bato, Baras, San Andres, Viga, Caramoran, Panganiban and San Miguel said that allowing yet another “one-time trip” will encourage another exodus of Catandunganons from outside the province to violate the quarantine, thereby putting at risk the fight against COVID-19.
“We are not in any manner prepared for another wave of transfer of stranded passengers to our province since we are more than busy implementing preventive and protective measures to contain the entry of COVID-19 to our island,” they stated.
The unabated transfer of stranded passengers for “humanitarian reasons” will open the gate for possible contamination of the island,” the local executives stressed.
In a Facebook post, suspended Governor Joseph Cua had asked decision-makers to set aside politics and avoid repeating the previous mistake of letting in the first batch of 22 stranded passengers on March 20 for humanitarian considerations, especially now that Albay already has confirmed COVID-19 cases.
He called on the IATF to allow the stranded workers to finish its quarantine at Tabaco National High School where they are provided with food and monitored by health workers.
“Dai ko nunca itumpar an 34 tawo sa 275,000 na Catandunganon na ma-compromiso ang safety,” Cua emphasized, adding that the province should take advantage of its geographical location as an island miles away from mainland Luzon so it will remain free of the virus.