Balik-Probinsya beneficiaries grateful over government’s program despite pandemic backlash

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DAVAO ORIENTAL – After a prolonged stay in Manila due to transport restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Overseas Filipino Workers who are residents of Davao Oriental are now starting to return home.

On May 27 and 28, thirty-four 34 Overseas Filipino Workers finally arrived in the province through sweeper flights facilitated by the national government through its Balik-Probinsya Program. Under the program, the Local Government Units are mandated to facilitate their safe transport from the airport back to their respective LGUs.

Aboard a bus with police escorts and arriving at the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Operation Center in Mati City, these OFWs where were then fetched by the vehicles of their respective LGUs and transported to the Quarantine Center of their LGUs for isolation and for swab testing.

A bus carrying returning residents of Davao Oriental is escorted by a police vehicle until they reach the provincial isolation facility.-PIO/DavOr

Since last month, the provincial government and the city and municipal local government units have already facilitated the safe return of a total of 97 OFWs in coordination with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and other national agencies such as the Philippine National Police, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Office of Civil Defense, and Department of the Interior and Local Government, as well as the Bachelor Express Bus company.

PDRRMO – Operation Center Manager Mr. Francis Jason Bendulo said that while the LGUs and Provincial Government take turns in fetching the OFWs, all of them are directly transported at the Quarantine Center for isolation and re-swabbing.

As per protocol of the Provincial Task Force on COVID-19, all OFWs and returning residents, among others are required to undergo RT-PCR swab testing regardless if they already have secured a negative RT-PCR in Manila.

“We implement this policy as a way to make sure that these individuals are not carriers of the virus. And even if they are, they will be contained and there will be easily contact-traced,” said Provincial Task Force on COVID-19 Action Officer Dr. Reden Bersaldo.

Last Friday, of the 8 OFWs, 3 from the municipality of San Isidro and 5 from the municipality of Banaybanay have tested positive for the coronavirus disease. All of them were re-swabbed, isolated, and treated within the Quarantine Center while all their contacts have also been traced, quarantined, and swabbed.

Dr. Bersaldo said that in anticipation of the returning OFWs and other residents, the province has acquired and stockpiled 11,000 sets of RT-PCR swab test kits and 16,000 sets of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).  

Meanwhile, the OFWs who have availed of the government’s program said they are relieved to have been able to return home.

“We are very grateful to the government for making our return possible, especially to the provincial government. They took care of us. I am happy, though I am not sure if I could already hug and kiss my family. My children today, waiting for me in our town of Governor Generoso, or, I still have to wait tomorrow,” said an OFW, who worked in Saudi Arabia for two years.

Another OFW, a MacDonalds service crew in Saudi Arabia who finished his two-year contract said he was grateful that he was included in the chartered flight for the repatriation of OFWs, and arrived in the Philippines at the start of the pandemic.

“I thank God that we arrived safely. I thank the government for the attention and assistance given to us.  My flight was scheduled on March 17, but the lockdown started on March 15, so I was stranded for two months. I am happy to be back home, I am happy to be in my home town of Caraga again,” he added.

Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang said the provincial government is happy to assist and welcome the OFWs not only because it is mandated under the law but also for humanitarian consideration. However, he stressed that all health protocols must be strictly observed in order to prevent the spread of the virus. –

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