House of Representatives

Lawmakers slam DILG, Hatid Tulong officials for snubbing hearing on stranded Filipinos

Mara Cepeda
Lawmakers slam DILG, Hatid Tulong officials for snubbing hearing on stranded Filipinos

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 House committee on good government and public accountability sent out invitations just two days before the hearing, but lawmakers say that is not an excuse for officials to be no-shows

Ranking congressmen hit officials of the Hatid Tulong program and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for failing to attend a hearing on the plight of locally stranded individuals (LSIs).

On Thursday, July 30, the House committee on good government and public accountability started looking into the status of LSIs after thousands of them were pictured stuck together at the Rizal Memorial Stadium while waiting for trips back to their provinces. (READ: Hatid Tulong official appeals for public understanding over packed Rizal stadium)

It was a clear violation of the government’s physical distancing rules in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But Joseph Encabo, the lead convenor of the Hatid Tulong program for LSIs, did not heed the House panel’s invitation to attend the hearing. The DILG also did not send any officials.

Upon learning this, House panel vice chair and Anakalusugan Representative Mike Defensor said their absence was an an “insult” and “affront” to Congress.

“How can it be that the department in charge is not even here to shed light on the problem that not only us, but the whole country is facing?… I think this is an affront not only to the committee but to Congress itself,” said Defensor in a mix of English and Filipino.

He then directed the committee secretariat to write a “strongly worded letter” to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año over the House hearing snub. 

“May we direct the committee secretary to write a strongly-worded letter, isa pong sulat kay Secretary Año, sa pang-iinsulto sa kumite, sa hindi pagdalo ninuman mula sa kanilang departamento?” said Defensor.

(May we direct the committee secretary to write a strongly-worded letter to Secretary Año because they insulted the committee by not sending any representative from their department?)

A few minutes later, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla asked if Encabo was present during the hearing.

When the committee secretariat said Encabo was also absent, Remulla moved that a letter should also be sent to him and the rest of the Presidential Management Staff, of which Encabo is also an official.

“I think they should also be advised that they have to obey the summons of this committee because this matter has to be resolved, and they’re the ones who are actually in charge of that spectacle that happened in Rizal Memorial,” said the Cavite 7th District congressman. 

Still, Defensor admitted on Thursday that the hearing was organized at the last minute, since invitations were sent out only two days ago on Tuesday, July 28. This was also just a day after President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address.

But Defensor said that is still not an excuse for the invited officials not to show up.

“Ito po ay ini-schedule nang mabilisan sa kadahilanang nakikita natin na may problema talaga ang ating mga kababayan. Maraming stranded sa kanila, hindi namin alam kung ano ang problema,” said Defensor. 

(We scheduled this at the last minute because we saw the problems faced by our countrymen. Many of them are still stranded, and we don’t know what’s really the problem causing it.)

Encabo already held a press briefing to admit they did fail to anticipate the huge number of LSIs they needed to bring home. Still, Encabo said they decided to put the LSIs at the Rizal Memorial Stadium instead of just leaving them out in the streets. 

Encabo later told ABS-CBN News that there are no more stranded Filipinos in the sports complex as of Thursday morning, after the last batch of 1,017 passengers boarded a ship en route to the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Still, 48 were left behind after their rapid tests yielded positive results for COVID-19. They are currently in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila while waiting for the results of their swab tests.

The national government has since canceled its plan to require all LSIs to undergo a swab test before going back to their home provinces. Instead, they have placed the burden of testing on local governments accepting the stranded. – Rappler.com

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.