THE government has temporarily suspended the Balik Probinsya, Balik Pagasa (BP2) program to give way to efforts to bring home people who were stranded due to the lockdown back to their hometowns, National Housing Authority General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. said yesterday.
Escalada, the executive director of the BP2 Council, said he expects the suspension to take at least a month depending on the decision of the Interagency Task Force for the Management of the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) when to ease the general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) in different parts of the country.
He said that due to the lockdown restrictions, there is limited transportation and traveling between borders had made it difficult for some people to return to their hometowns.
He said BP2 was initially set to roll out its trip to Mindanao this week and to the Visayas and Mindanao in July. Launched last May, the program had already sent back 112 people to Palo, Leyte.
Escalada said the priority at the moment is to bring home students, construction workers, tourists and other people who were stranded in Metro Manila due to the lockdown under the “Hatid Tulong” program.
He said the Hatid Tulong program is a short term program that aims to transport people back to their hometown while BP2 is a long term program that relocates the people back to their province where they would live for good.
Escalada assured the public, especially the local government units, that the people joining either the Hatid Tulong or BP2 had undergone rapid tests for coronavirus and were subjected to proper documentation and clearances before they were allowed to leave Metro Manila.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, will also help the locally stranded individuals (LSIs) through transportation, food and accommodation aid.
Roque made the announcement as Malacanang sent its condolences to the family of Michelle Silvertino who, according to reports, had been living on a sidewalk and died while waiting for a bus that she could take to return home to Bicol.
He said the government does not want a repeat of the incident and had provided temporary shelter at the Villamor Airbase golf course for people who are stranded and waiting for the transportation operations to resume so they could return to their hometowns.
Roque also advised the public to be wary and vigilant against those who might take advantage of their situation, especially those who are stranded in airports and bus stations.
He said some of those waiting at airports had been promised jobs abroad. He also warned illegal recruiters that they would be jailed.