COVID-19

Hatid Tulong official appeals for public understanding over packed Rizal stadium

Pia Ranada
Hatid Tulong official appeals for public understanding over packed Rizal stadium

Thousands of locally stranded individuals availing of the free ride back to their respective provinces are gathered at the baseball stadium of the Rizal Sports Complex in Manila on Friday, July 24. They will be transported to the Quirino Grandstand for the Hatid Tulong Program of the national government after undergoing rapid tests in the morning of Saturday, July 25, where buses will send them back to various provinces. Around 10,000 locally stranded individuals, 7,000 for prelisted and 3,000 for additional walk-ins, are expected to take advantage of the 2nd batch of the Hatid Tulong program of the national government to return to the province after being locked down in metro manila due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deployed police roam the area to remind the LSIs to maintain proper physical distancing as they set up temporary sleeping areas on the bleachers of the stadium. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Ben Nabong/Rappler

The government did not anticipate the huge number of stranded persons and chose to pack them in the Rizal sports complex rather than leave them out in the streets

Despite the government’s “best efforts,” the huge number of stranded persons who flocked to the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex led to violations of the physical distancing rule for preventing the spread of COVID-19, said a coronavirus task force official on Saturday, July 25.

Joseph Encabo, lead convenor of Hatid Tulong, the government program for locally-stranded individuals (LSIs), gave this explanation for viral photos showing thousands of people packed in the sports stadium as they waited for trips back to their provinces.

“I just want to relay to everyone that in the past days, all those people were in the streets. They were rained on for two days, they were exposed to heat, and we had to make a decision in order to give proper shelter to our countrymen, LSIs, especially the senior citizens, the pregnant women, and children,” he said in Filipino, in a virtual press conference.

He said there was no way the Hatid Tulong technical working group could anticipate the huge number of people who insisted on waiting in the street for trips to the province.

While they made room for some 7,500 people, there were many more “walk-ins,” leading to the crowding at the stadium.

“With the huge number of LSIs, it can’t be avoided that, no matter how large our venue – we used a football field and baseball field of Rizal Memorial Complex – they’re really determined to go home today or tomorrow,” said Encabo.

“We hope the public understands that we are doing our best to follow the protocols and guidelines. They have masks; there is a santizing protocol,” he added.

What will happen to the stranded people?

The stranded people bound for Davao region and Soccsksargen are set to depart at 1 pm on Saturday while those going to Northern Mindanao, Agusan del Sur, and Agusan del Norte will be brought to ships at 5 pm.

While waiting for their trips, the LSIs are given food, water, and assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of the President, said Encabo, who is also an official of the Presidential Management Staff.

He gave assurances that the stranded persons go through a medical protocols before leaving Metro Manila. Not all of them, however, go through the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, the swab test or reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.

According to Encabo, all LSIs go through a rapid test. Only those who test positive get a RT-PCR test. Those who test positive there will be placed in a dedicated quarantine facility.

Those who test negative in the rapid tests will be given a travel authority to leave for their provinces.

It seems the government did not push through with its plan to require RT-PCR tests for all LSIs, as previously announced by testing czar Vince Dizon.

Now, it’s up to receiving local governments whether or not to require such tests for the returning LSIs. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.