Bicolano lawmaker Elizaldy S. Co (Ako Bicol partylist) on Monday, June 15, appealed to the national government to allow the immediate resumption of provincial bus services to bring home stranded Filipinos subject to clearcut health, transport and quarantine protocols.
In a statement, Co implored the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the departments of health, transportation and interior and local government and various local government units to come up with a set of unified guidelines to facilitate resumption of provincial bus operations.
Without public transportation, Co said thousands of Filipinos and overseas workers can’t return home and join their families in the provinces. Aside from congestion and higher risk of infection, inability to return home is a primary cause of depression and anxiety especially for OFWs, he said.
“With all due respect, the national government and LGUs must discuss, agree and lay down clearcut guidelines for bus operators and commuters. The goal is to allow stranded Filipinos to ride provincial buses while minimizing risks of potential COVID-19 infection,” the solon said.
Citing his personal experience in bringing home stranded construction workers and Bicolano students from UP Los Banos, Co said such effort entails a lot of coordination between national and local government agencies. “It’s difficult, but not impossible,” he said.
Due to lack of public transportation, the solon lamented that some Filipino workers die without ever seeing their loved ones. “It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m sure we can all agree on a set of clear, systematic and non-redundant guidelines. We owe it to our kababayans,” he said.
Test clearances for COVID-19 and adherence to quarantine requirements are imperative for all passengers, bus drivers and crew. While inconvenient, Co said requiring passengers to undergo yet another 14-day quarantine upon arrival – if their respective LGUs mandate it – is better than not being allowed to go home at all.
“Cost of rapid tests and protective gear like masks can be included in the cost of tickets so there’s some level of comfort for commuters and bus operators. For those who were tested, cleared and have completed the mandatory quarantine, I don’t think they would mind going through another two weeks of self-isolation in the province just to reunite with their families ,” he added.
Co said buses ferry millions of passengers each year, even more than all domestic airlines combined. Hence, he said, buses are critical in transporting people and merchandise throughout the country.