In a press conference on June 23, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte had these words to say, “'Di puwedeng ‘di makauwi ang mga kababayan natin. It is their right to go home, to live or die there”. The message of the President was clear. The message was simple – bring home the stranded.
On a hot and hazy Sunday afternoon on July 12, 2020, 2GO vessel MV Saint Francis Xavier docked at Nasipit Port carrying a total of 817 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) from Manila. They were part of the group whose travel was scheduled on June 27, 2020 but was canceled due to the moratorium on LSIs declared by Caraga Region.
The stranded had to endure. They had suffered long enough. Finally on July 10, 2020 they had boarded the said mercy voyage.
Prior to their scheduled departure at Manila Port, 256 had to go through rapid testing at the Philippine Army Gym to erase doubts as to their health concerns. The tests of the 156 of the said figure were facilitated by the group of Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito “Ching” B. Plaza. All the rest submitted to testing at their own volition.
A day before their arrival on July 12, 2020, the local government units (LGUs) concerned were already informed for them to prepare. Fortunately, all had responded well. All LSIs were fetched and no one was left behind. Even the LSIs bound for other regions who had transited only in Caraga were also duly fetched by their LGUs.
Indeed, it was PEZA’s ‘last dance’ after facilitating and organizing numerous mercy flights and voyages. However, the fight for the LSIs’ return to their homes continues. This time, it will be under the Hatid Tulong Program lead by the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).
On the day of departure, all concerned government line agencies were there and were on top of the situation. They had played their respective roles well. By and large, it was a huge success.
All told, no doubt that Caraga Region had responded well to the call of the President. But more than that, it is the DILG's solemn duty to render public service that is put to test during these trying times.