Speaking at the government-hosted “Laging Handa” virtual public briefing, Marcelino Escalada Jr., who is also general manager of the National Housing Authority (NHA), said the government would focus in the meantime on the “Hatid Tulong” program for the speedy transport to the provinces of stranded people, especially returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Boy Santos
‘Balik Probinsya’ suspended
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” program has been suspended to prioritize the return to the provinces of people stranded in Metro Manila, the program’s executive director Marcelino Escalada Jr. said yesterday.

Speaking at the government-hosted “Laging Handa” virtual public briefing, Escalada, who is also general manager of the National Housing Authority (NHA), said the government would focus in the meantime on the “Hatid Tulong” program for the speedy transport to the provinces of stranded people, especially returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“I decided as a matter of strategy to suspend for now the rollouts for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa. The President has a very clear instruction to prioritize the return of our citizens stranded here in Manila,” Escalada said in mixed English and Filipino.

The Balik Probinsya program was proposed by Sen. Bong Go and institutionalized by President Duterte through an executive order as part of the government’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 by decongesting Metro Manila.

The program is composed of short, medium and long term components such as cash assistance, education, health and livelihood assistance and housing subsidy.

Escalada said more than 53,000 individuals have applied for Balik Probinsya since processing began online last May 8.

Just last month, the first batch of Balik Probinsya beneficiaries consisting of 112 individuals were sent to Leyte via shuttle bus provided by the government. Two of them, however, turned out to be infected with COVID-19 upon their return to their hometowns of Jaro and Tolosa.

Escalada said also to be prioritized under Hatid Tulong are construction workers, students and tourists stranded in Metro Manila when the government imposed a lockdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hatid Tulong is pure and simple assistance in the meantime that there is no available transportation for them. These are the people who don’t have a permanent house here [in Metro Manila] and do not have the capacity to finance longer stay here,” Escalada said.

Escalada’s announcement came following reports that a Filipina housemaid from Antipolo died on Friday while waiting for a bus ride to return to her family in Camarines Sur.

Michelle Silvertino, 33, walked from Cubao, Quezon City to Pasay to get a ride to Bicol.

Silvertino was found unconscious under a footbridge along EDSA in Pasay.

She was brought to the Pasay General Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Duterte earlier gave an ultimatum to concerned government agencies to bring home over 24,000 OFWs stranded in various hotels in Metro Manila.

Escalada said the suspension of the Balik Probinsya program may last for about a month or until public transportation becomes available to stranded individuals.

“I think when the GCQ (general community quarantine) is lifted, then there would be available mass transportation, so naturally our Hatid Tulong will die down and we can go back to the more comprehensive and long-term Balik Probinsya program,” Escalada said.

Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Joselito Bautista said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has started the release of the second tranche of the P5,000 to P8,000 Social Amelioration Program (SAP) emergency cash subsidy.

The first batch to get the second wave of cash aid includes the family-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) that have LandBank cash cards.

Bautista said the transfer of the SAP cash aid started Wednesday and the money will be appearing in the accounts of some 1.3 million 4Ps family beneficiaries with cash cards before weekend.

He said that by next week, they expect to start releasing the second tranche cash subsidy to eligible low-income, vulnerable families in local government units (LGUs) whose liquidation reports for the first tranche subsidy have already finished validation.

Also slated to begin next week is the start of distribution of the SAP cash subsidy to the 5 million additional so-called “waitlisted” low-income, vulnerable families that were severely affected by the enhanced community quarantine enforced last March to May to contain the spread of the pandemic. Rainier Allan Ronda

BALIK PROBINSYA
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