Stranded Russian tourists board on March 24, 2020, a military aircraft that will take them to the Mactan International Airport in Cebu, where a chartered flight is waiting to take them back home. (Photo courtesy of TOW West/Western Command)

The Philippine government sent Tuesday a military aircraft to Puerto Princesa City on a special flight mission to pick up some 18 Russian nationals who were stranded because of the lockdown imposed to stop the spread of the pandemic COVID-19.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) aircraft landed around 6:30 p.m. at the Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPIA) to collect the Russians who traveled as tourists to the towns of San Vicente, El Nido, and Puerto Princesa City, according to provincial information officer Winston Arzaga also Tuesday.

Arzaga told Palawan News in a phone interview that the special flight for the Russians was requested by their embassy through Department of National Defense (DND) Sec. Delfin Lorenzana.

Russian tourists wait for their bags as a sniffing dog is managed to check them by Tactical Operations Wing West (TOW West) personnel. (Photo courtesy of TOW West/Western Command)

“Request ng Russian Embassy kay Sec. Lorenzana. In fact, ‘yong military attache ng Russia ang pumunta kay Sec Lorenzana para personal na i-request ang pagta-transport or paglilipad out of Palawan. Sila Sec Lorenzana ang nakipag-coordinate sa atin,” he said.

“18 na Russians galing sila ng Elnido, Port Barton sa San Vicente, at Puerto Puerto Princesa City. May dalawang nagpaiwan sa Taytay dito lang muna daw sila,” Arzaga added.

He added the Russians were flown to the Mactan International Airport in Cebu where the chartered flight that will take them back to their country is waiting.

(Photo courtesy of TOW West/Western Command)

Arzaga also said there is another special flight they are coordinating tentatively on March 26 as there remain over 324 foreign tourists in Palawan.

“Meron pa kaming ina-arrange — there could be another flight ang tentative sa [March] 26. Hindi pa natin ma-determine kung ilan pero ang bilang kasi ng Department of Tourism (DOT) nasa 324, but it could be more na iba’t-ibang nationalities, ibang plane na ‘yan,” Arzaga said.

In an advisory on March 20, 2020, the DOT said “sweeper flights” for foreign nationals to bring them to airports will be allowed to continue operations” so they can return to their countries even when the country is imposing an enhanced community quarantine”.

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