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Refugee LSIs at massive risk

"It is unlawful to prevent them from returning home."

The Duterte administration must act swiftly to help the thousands of so-called “locally-stranded individuals” or LSIs in Metro Manila go back to their homes in the provinces. 

Unfortunately, some local government unit officials have stood in the way of the LSIs’ return to their homes and families for fear of a COVID-19 outbreak in their respective localities. This has prompted flight cancellations in their domestic airports.

 As ordered by President Duterte, the Department of the Interior and Local Government must make it clear that the LGUs cannot just prohibit their constituents from returning home; it is illegal to do so.

The DILG ensures that repatriated LSIs have undergone RT-PCR test and confirmed negative for COVID-19.

These overzealous politicians, governors and mayor should be reminded that the 1987 Constitution guarantees the Filipino’s liberty of abode and must welcome the LSIs.

 Instead, LGUs are duty-bound to beef up their local healthcare system to conduct mass testing, contact tracing, treatment and care of local COVID-19 patients, as well as set up their quarantine facilities.

 LSIs, also known as “bakwets,” are evacuees or refugees who got stranded in the National Capital Region (NCR) when President Duterte on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force ordered the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) imposed Luzon-wide in March.

 It was rather a late reaction to the outbreak of coronavirus disease and yet it proved too drastic for the economy.

 The LSIs are travelers who failed to return to their hometowns due to cancelled flights and shutdown of public transportation. Bakwets are also the poor families of those who have lost their jobs and livelihood and are now incapacitated to sustain their needs in the city.

 Still, others are repatriated overseas Filipino workers OFWs and other returning Filipinos from overseas, including who went on tourist visa to look but failed to land jobs in countries like Japan and Dubai due to the pandemic.

 The number of these Filipino refugees is expected to balloon even more as millions are feared to lose their jobs, particularly in Metro Manila, amid the continued increase in COVID-19 cases and the possibility of another total lockdown.  

 The homecoming of thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs abroad is also anticipated. 

A number of the LSIs have been shipped to the Visayas and Mindanao with the help of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which has rendered a tremendous job assisting repatriated overseas Filipino workers and other returning Filipinos from overseas.

The DILG has transported hundreds of other LSIs in Luzon provinces and the Bicol region.

But thousands of LSIs remain in Rizal Memorial Stadium, Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila Science High School, Philippine Army Gymnasium, Villamor Air Base Elementary School, and at the NAIA Terminal 3.

 Literally just a few kilometers away, Malacańang must have caught on TV news the disheartening sight of the 10,000 LSIs, including women and their small children, getting drenched in the rain at the stands of the Rizal Memorial Stadium and hundreds of others at the Luneta Grandstand.

 The President’s men on high horses must come to the rescue of these Filipino refugees to prevent the clear and present danger of massive social transmission of COVID-19, in which case may be said to be a by-product of their panicky and heavy-handed approach to the public health problem.

 Such eventuality would be just as horrifying and devastating as the chaotic sight of millions of impoverished people almost dying of hunger while lining up for the first dole of the Social Amelioration Program cash assistance, during which time wearing of face masks and social distancing were not enforced yet.

 Just last month, Malacańang officials promised there will not be a repeat of the tragedy of Michelle Silvertino, the 33-year old LSI who succumbed to illness while desperately waiting for a bus ride home to rejoin her three children in Camarines Sur.

 Such promise must be fulfilled as soon as possible before any more tragedies transpire.

Topics: Erwin Tulfo , Refugee , locally-stranded individuals , LSIs , COVID-19
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