Vice President Leni Robredo recently provided suggestions on how the government can properly accommodate the thousands of locally stranded Filipinos or LSIs in Rizal Memorial Sport Complex in Manila.
Over the weekend, local news outlets shared photos of the LSIS crammed along the bleachers of the stadium.
Because of the limited space, they could no longer observe physical distancing which was mandated to prevent COVID-19 transmissions.
LSIs include thousands of repatriated overseas Filipino workers who were stuck in the nation’s capital since the lockdown.
The national government previously assured them a safe trip home through two government-led programs “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” and “Hatid Tulong.”
However, provincial governments largely blamed these schemes for the rising COVID-19 cases among their constituents.
‘Suggestions lang po, kung mamarapatin’
When the photos reached the vice president, Robredo denounced the lack of coordination and planning among authorities at the expense of the Filipinos.
“Are these pictures real? If they are, shame on us. There has to be a better, more organized way of doing this without compromising the health and safety of our people,” the vice president said.
She then penned suggestions that the government agencies can follow to address the woes of LSIs:
Are these pictures real? If they are, shame on us. There has to be a better, more organized way of doing this without…
- Buses are scheduled by province or region. Don’t group them in single trips together.
- There should be a system for pre-registration wherein Filipinos would know when to go for tests and trips.
“Again, by batches hopefully. Don’t go together,” Robredo said.
- If someone is not registered, designate another place for this person and not in the same place as the rest. Always ensure social distancing.
Robredo mentioned that LSIs used to be housed in different facilities. She suggested that if this were the case, COVID-19 tests could have been conducted there to prevent waiting time, the number of people could have been better regulated and no one would get infected.
Robredo also questioned why the government is using rapid antibody tests despite local physicians’ and scientists’ opposition to this because of its unreliability.
“Maraming dumating sa Bicol by PNR, allegedly, after undergoing rapid testing. Pag dating doon, they tested positive. Dapat sana swab testing na gawin para mas mataas ang accuracy,” Robredo said.
Last May, seven medical societies and a health advocacy group voiced their dissent against the government’s initiative to use rapid test kits instead to detect infections instead of the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.
Robredo said that her office had written to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the government’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis, about the LSIs.
“Sumulat na kami kay Secretary Galvez tungkol dito. last week pa. In fact, we reiterated this request in our letter to PMS. We sent them the list of LSIs who contacted us to register for a free ride,” she said.
- There should also be coordination with the local government units if they have the capacity of accepting the returnees.
“Sana kabahagi ng protocols yung readiness ng LGU to take them in. Hindi puwede fyi lang. Dapat tanungin capacity nila to take in so much number of LSIs. Hindi natin puwede ipasa responsibility sa kanila kasi hindi pare pareho yung capacities ng bawat LGU,” Robredo said.
Rally ban and the mob of LSIs in Rizal Stadium
The public had been calling out government officials to fix the homecoming programs for LSIs who were previously seen waiting from days to weeks in ports and terminals, sometimes soaked in the rain, since last May.
This time, they compared the situation of the LSIs in Rizal stadium with the protests being prohibited by the Department of Interior and Local Government due to supposed COVID-19 risks.
Veteran journalist Inday Espina Varona tagged the Twitter handle of the DILG as she questioned the agency.
“Before you act the heavy towards rallyists known for hewing to health standards, solve this mess first! All the ingredients for disaster,” Varona said.
— inday espina varona (@indayevarona) July 24, 2020
Actress Jennylyn Mercado likewise questioned DILG for their reason in prohibiting rallies when they allowed overcrowding in the stadium.
“Kung ganun po bakit niyo eto hinayaang mangyari sa Rizal Stadium?” Mercado asked.
— jennylyn mercado (@MercadoJen) July 26, 2020
Former poll commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal also noted that rapid tests are not effective.
“If someone was infected during the past few days, doing a Rapid Test will NOT work. It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
FYI – If someone was infected during the past few days, doing a Rapid Test will NOT work.
It’s a recipe for disaster. https://t.co/iiEvYIFWfu
— Gregorio Larrazabal® 🇵🇭 (@GoyYLarrazabal) July 25, 2020
Last Monday, Presidential Management Staff Assistant Secretary and Hatid Tulong head Joseph Encabo said that eight to nine persons already tested positive of the nearly 4,000 LSIs there.
Encabo assured that those who tested positive through the rapid tests were already administered with the confirmatory swab testing or PCR tests.