Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez on Friday questioned President Rodrigo Duterte‘s source after the latter claimed that the actor-politician was supposedly against the return of Filipinos to the city under the “Balik Probrinsya” program.
The city chief shared a screengrab of a news item published on Twitter that fact-checked Duterte’s remarks in his latest national address that discussed updates on the COVID-19 pandemic situation of the country.
“Then we wonder who told the President that I didn’t want to accept [OFWs]?” Gomez wrote on his Facebook page.
His wife, Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez (Leyte, Fourth District), similarly shared the screenshot of the news item on her Facebook page and responded against Duterte’s claim with an eyeroll emoji.
Duterte in his televised address on Thursday night mentioned Gomez and claimed that the latter was not in favor of accepting Filipinos returning to the province.
He said that he does not disagree with the mayor’s policies on returning residents but added that they should be allowed to go home.
“I do not have any quarrel with Richard Gomez. He was the one who said that he’s not going to accept anybody from entering, or for that matter, leaving the place,” Duterte said.
“Okay man lang ‘yan. It’s part of maybe the vigilance that a person nurtures in his heart of how to do it. But you know there are also constitutional issues that are involved and those are sacred ones,” he added.
Duterte reiterated that local government units have no reason to prevent returnees, especially overseas Filipino workers, who have tested negative of the coronavirus disease, from coming home.
Prior to the airing of the president’s address, however, Gomez already said that while it is the constitutional right of returnees to come home, there are public health protocols that should be observed by both parties—both the national and the local government.
“Meaning, there are ways to satisfy both if everyone is in sync and protocols are set in place and observed,” he wrote on Facebook.
Gomez in his previous Facebook posts never mentioned he was against the returning of Filipinos to Ormoc City. He only lamented the lack of coordination from the government agencies involved in the “Balik Probinsya” program.
What was the issue?
On May 25, Gomez in a Facebook post called out the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the National Housing Authority and the Overseas Workers Welfare Association for sending returnees to the city on short notice.
DILG, NHA, OWWA, what happened to all the protocols that you guys are trying to formulate for returning residents?!!!I…
Gomez said that the DILG regional office and OWWA texted his team that morning to inform of three planes arriving in Tacloban from Manila on the same day. The agencies failed to inform him how many of the returnees were bound for Ormoc.
In a follow-up Facebook post, the mayor said that they were only following the protocols given by DILG itself on May 21.
“Sumusunod lang po kami sa naunang utos ng DILG mismo sa briefing na ginawa nila sa LGU last Thursday, May 21, na 3 days prior to arrival of repatriates ay dapat may coordination from their LGU of origin and notice from the national agencies para ang ito ay mapaghandaan nang maayos,” Gomez recounted.
“Ang nangyari, a few hours later, I received a text na ang mga galing sa Manila ay nasa Palo, Leyte na at hinahanap ang magsusundo sa mga mag Balik Probinsya,” he added.
Gomez also commented on the remarks made by Duterte’s chief presidential legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, on his program “Counterpoint,” as well as the comments of DILG Secretary Eduardo Año.
Año on May 26 warned local government units against turning away returnees from their provinces.
Panelo, meanwhile, questioned Gomez and accused him of being “flustered” when the mayor previously said that they have quarantine centers prepared.
The mayor in his follow-up post reiterated that he only asked for proper “coordination” among agencies so that the cases of the returnees can be handled smoothly and without disregard for stringent health protocols.
“On both occasions ng pagdating on mga repatriates I called our DILG8 regional director to ask kung anong nangyari at bakit walang nakakaalam na merong parating. On both occasions, he said he has no idea as well. We ask for coordination not to give anyone a hard time but to make the process smooth for everyone,” Gomez said.
The “Balik Probinsya” program intends to decongest Metro Manila, which is a hotspot of COVID-19 cases, and bring people to their respective provinces with the hopes of sustaining their livelihoods outside the National Capital Region.