Willy Prado, a 42-year-old construction worker from Narra, has all his bags packed and ready to go. For the last four months, he has been stuck in El Nido unable to return home because of the pandemic lockdown that began mid-March.
With the provincial government’s announcement allowing stranded residents to travel within the mainland, Prado and his companions did not waste time to apply for travel passes.
“Mahigit sampo kami ngayon dito kumuha ng travel passes. Nakakatuwa, sana ma-aprubahan at makauwi na kami sa aming pamilya,” Prado said.
Once coordination between provincial authorities and his hometown officials are concluded, Prado will be able to travel back to Narra at government-organized trips for so-called locally stranded individuals (LSI).
Provincial authorities estimate there are more than 380 LSIs in Palawan waiting for a chance to return to their families.
Both the city government of Puerto Princesa and the province of Palawan decided to ease travel restrictions, as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus, after Palawan was declared a low-risk area under general community quarantine (GCQ).
At the onset of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Palawan governor Jose Alvarez imposed an inter-municipal travel ban which forced individuals to “stay at home”.
In El Nido, more than 300 LSIs were facilitated in a one-stop-shop activity held by the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) for COVID-19 at the municipal covered court since Monday, May 18.
Edgardo Sabenacio, manager of EOC El Nido, told Palawan News the group processing was arranged to simplify the verification, and addressing the complaints and concerns.
“Ang sub- task group ay para asikasuhin ang ating mga locally stranded individuals and also our returning overseas para hindi na sila mahirapan pa kung saan-saan pa sila pupunta,” Sabenacio said.
Sabencio added that 60 out of the identified 300 LSIs were stranded students.
Dr. Rhodora B. Tingson, Municipal Health Officer (MHO) from Sofronio Española, told Palawan News that 50 LSIs have already applied for the issuance of health certificate since Monday.
“Inaasahan natin na may mga stranded pa tayo na mag-aapply pa [on the following days],” Tingson said.
LSIs who shows flu-like symptoms upon their physical examination will be denied the issuance of the required health certificate, Tingson added.
Madelyn Sacmon, Municipal Tourism Officer (MTO) of San Vicente, said that around 30 domestic tourists, who were stranded in Port Barton, have been coordinating with them for their return home as some were already running out of money.
“Ang problema, wala na silang budget kaya gusto na rin daw nila makauwi. Wala naman daw silang best experience kasi stay at home naman sila,” Sacmon said.
Lucy Panagsagan, also a San Vicente tourism officer, said that the domestic tourists were hoping for schedules of “sweeper flights”. However, the timeline is yet to be determined.
“Wala naman tayong masyadong mai-provide except sa pag-assist sa kanila na maka-avail ng sweeper flight. From time to time, nakikipag-coordinate tayo sa kanila,” Panagsagan said.
Composed of 23 municipalities and one component city, Palawan stands as the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction.
(With reports from Romar Miranda, Bella Mutia, Ruil Alabi, and Alex Baaco)