The provincial government last week unveiled a new repatriation program for Catandunganons stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic in Metro Manila and other regions of the country.
The new program, which is separate from the national government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” program, promises to send home stranded Catandunganon workers, students, tourists, and other individuals while travel between quarantine zones remain restricted.
“[T]ig-specify nimi na this Balik Happy Island Program, while naka-tono siya sa Balik Probinsya Program, pero tig-specific ninda su purpose ta nganing mabalik su satuyang mga Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) buda su satuyang mga Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs),” Human Resource Management Officer-designate Prince Lim Subion said in a press conference last Friday.
Said returnees will be required to submit a medical clearance issued not later than five (5) days before departure and a travel authority issued by the Joint Task Force for Corona Virus Shield (JTF CV), both of which must be submitted three days prior to departure.
The returnees would also need to inform their barangay and local government unit of their location to arrange and coordinate their departure as well as notify the Provincial Task Force on Balik-Happy Island Program.
In addition, returnees would also have to undergo rapid testing for COVID-19 hours prior to departure. However, those who test positive will be isolated at the designated pre-departure point for the sweeper bus.
Uproar among ROFs
The requirements, however, caused some uproar as some ROFs have already completed and even went beyond the requisite 14-day quarantine in Metro Manila, rendering their previously issued medical certificates null and void. They had already tested negative for the coronavirus under the program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Provincial Administrator Lemuel Surtida clarified that those medical certificates will not be honored as there is a valid fear among local health officials that the returnees may have been exposed during their extended stay.
Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes echoed his sentiment, adding that because of the shift from ECQ to MECQ, restrictions at the National Capital Region has become lax and the chances of exposure to COVID-19 are higher.
“Ang dagdag lang na programa ng ating provincial government na Balik Probinsya may add-on tayo. ‘Yun lang ‘yung program ni Gob na Balik Happy Island na lahat din po magiging happy, dahil ensured tayo na 100% at least, na ‘yung mga uuwi sa atin, hindi magiging threat sa satuya,” the PHO chief said.