E. Visayas lawmakers seek review of ‘Hatid Probinsya’ after spike in coronavirus cases

Mara Cepeda
E. Visayas lawmakers seek review of ‘Hatid Probinsya’ after spike in coronavirus cases
The 14 lawmakers say Eastern Visayas was free from coronavirus cases for weeks until the 'Hatid Probinsya' program was implemented

MANILA, Philippines – At least 14 Eastern Visayan lawmakers led by House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez are now calling for a review of the “Hatid Probinsya” program given the recent surge in coronavirus cases in the region. 

In a joint statement on Thursday, June 18, the Eastern Visayas legislators said they are calling for a “review” of the program aimed to help locally stranded persons return to their home provinces because the spike in COVID-19 cases in the region was observed as soon as the “Hatid Probinsya” was implemented.

The appeal was made by the following legislators

  • Martin Romualdez, Leyte 1st District
  • Paul Daza, Northern Samar 1st District
  • Lolita Javier, Leyte 2nd District
  • Jose Ong Jr, Northern Samar 2nd Distrct
  • Vicente Veloso III, Leyte 3rd District
  • Edgar Sarmiento, Western Samar 1st District
  • Lucy Torres Gomez, Leyte 4th District
  • Sharee Ann Tan, Western Samar 2nd District
  • Carl Cari, Leyte 5th District
  • Maria Fe Abunda, Eastern Samar
  • Roger Mercado, Southern Leyte
  • Gerardo Espino Jr, Biliran
  • Yedda Marie Romualdez, Tingog Sinirangan
  • Florencio Noel, An Waray

“We welcome our returning kabugtu-an and kaigsoonan to Samar and Leyte with open arms. We share their grief and agony in getting stranded away from their loved ones in these difficult times. They deserve the warm embrace of their families and their communities,” the lawmakers said.

“However, we firmly believe that it is the duty of government to ensure that these constituents of ours are free from coronavirus infection and other disease before they are allowed to rejoin their family members,” they added. 

The Hatid Probinsya program is different from “Balik Probinsya,” Senator Bong Go’s brainchild program that is now temporarily suspended. Balik Probinsya beneficiaries are those who already have homes in Metro Manila but who originally came from the provinces and now want to go back.  It was eyed as a long-term project, since it aims to also decongest Metro Manila to reduce the impact of future pandemics.

In contrast, the Hatid Probinsya is an ongoing short-term program that helps transport people unable to return to their provinces due to quarantine restrictions.

Earlier, health authorities in Northern Mindanao and Lanao del Sur also blamed the spike in the number of coronavirus cases there on the Hatid Probinsya program. 

Biggest spike

Eastern Visayas has so far recorded 333 cases of COVID-19, with 69 new  cases – the biggest spike in cases recorded in the region in a single day – tallied on Wednesday, June 17.

The region was coronavirus-free for weeks until March 23, when a patient who had resided in San Juan City in Metro Manila for about two months returned to Catarman, Northern Samar and later tested positive for the deadly disease. (READ: Disorganized repatriation program puts E. Visayas rural healthcare at risk) 

The Eastern Visayas legislators then asked President Rodrigo Duterte’s government “strictly” ensure that all returning residents are cleared of any COVID-19 symptoms and have been tested for the disease. 

The Eastern Visayas bloc also asked the national government to “ramp up” the funding to boost health programs in the region aimed to combat COVID-19, including the purchase of 500,000 personal protective equipment sets and essential kits, establishment of municipal quarantine centers, and reinforcing thecontact tracing capability in the region. 

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Northern Mindanao and Lanao del Sur has also been blamed on the Hatid Probinsya program. 

To date, the entire Philippines has logged a total of 27,238 COVID-19 cases with 1,108 deaths and 6,820 recoveries. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.