Palawan governor Jose Alvarez has bared plans to fast track new provincial government priorities aimed at strengthening the province’s medical infrastructure and capacity to deal with COVID-19.

Alvarez, in an online program, said among the provincial government’s projects already in the pipeline are the putting up of four molecular laboratories that will handle mass testing, and the building of a 400-bed hospital.

Once in place, the projects are expected provide the province the capacity to identify and isolate potential carriers of the deadly COVID-10 virus, temper the spread of the virus and properly manage patients for treatment.

Alvarez said the initiative will be funded from out of a P5 billion resource that Capitol has put together from grants coming from the national government and the province’s own savings and re-alignments.

“We have accumulated very large fund, including ‘yong galing sa national government, around P5 billion balance pa na puwede magamit,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said the island province is “very lucky” and that it still has some P5 billion at its disposal to arm its COVID-19 fight.

“Nag-budget reprogramming, realigning priorities. Energy resources and funding ng mga kalsada and bridges can wait. Financially, we are very lucky,” he said.

Stranded Palaweños

Alvarez also said he will initiate moves to facilitate the repatriation of stranded Palaweños outside the province by organizing mercy flights, taking cue from the national IATF’s directive allowing for such actions for provinces that have been downgraded to general community quarantine (GCQ).

Mercy flights would be arranged for their return home, Alvarez said, adding that he ask airline companies to help.

“I will instruct na kausapin yung Airswift at AirAsia. Madali ‘yan makausap dahil kaibigan ko ‘yan,” he said.

“Palawan is a very vital destination. Kailangan natin ng tulong nila at kung hindi sila tumulong, balang araw maaalala natin kung sino ang hindi tumulong,” he added.

He urged stranded residents to have their names listed for the mercy flights.

“I’m sure mayor Bayron will not object na pauwiin ang mga dapat pauwiin as long as dadaan lahat sa required measures and protocols,” Alvarez said.

Stranded residents were encouraged to call Sagip Palaweño hotline numbers: 0935-515-7055; 0935-515-7056; 0935-515-7058; 0935-515-7060; 0935-515-7077; 0951-982-8753; 0946-567-7342; 0946-567-7108; 0951-982-8754; and 0951-982-8755.

Molecular Laboratories and Hospitals

Alvarez said the province is eyeing to put up four molecular laboratories to cease its dependency on the COVID-19 testing centers in Manila.

“Wala pang time frame but we already finished the groundbreaking of the Rescue Center. We will be taking over [around] 500 hectares in Barangay Irawan,” he said.

He said some P122 million were also drawn from the local government’s funds targeted to purchase medical equipment, medicines, and other supplies.

A 400-bed hospital facility in Puerto Princesa, which was first introduced by third district representative Gil Acosta Jr., was also being fast-tracked for better patient handling.

“Kailangan natin ng malaking facility na kumpleto sa equipment. Itong 400-bed hospital sa city ni congressman Acosta [at] hopefully with the help of mayor [Lucilo] Bayron,” he added.

There are currently ten municipal health facilities spread throughout the province, which Alvarez hoped to add three more by 2020.

“We will be equipped. We will soon have hospital services in El Nido, San Vicente, and hopefully Quezon will be operational,” he added.

Food Security

“People who are hungry will go out of the way. No amount of checkpoint can prevent a hungry stomach,” Alvarez said anticipating a spike in the price of polished rice on the following months.

The municipal mayors were instructed to ensure that each municipality would have enough rice supplies that could last up to the end of year.

Palawan, being one of the biggest island provinces with huge land area, is still dependent on exporting rice from other provinces and countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.

“August and September we usually have shortage of rice supplies. ‘Yang P2,300 per sack, sinasabi ko sa inyo tataas pa ‘yan up to P3,000 kaya dapat secured and supplies natin,” he said.

The province is set to receive some 120,000 sacks of rice imported from Isabela province in the following weeks.

Hungry Palaweños

“I cannot stand na may naririnig akong nagugutuman sa ibang lugar,” Alvarez said upon hearing grievances from some stranded locals in different cities and provinces.

He said that he was not shy of personally calling political allies to help the stranded hungry Palaweños.

“Sa Taguig madali ko tawagan si mayor Cayetano subukan mo ikaw pumunta dito sa Palawan or si ex-mayor Lani and speaker Cayetano dahil kilala ko ang mga ito. Sigurado ma-deliveran kaagad ‘yan,” he added.

Recovery Plan

Guided by “common sense”, domestic tourism is being explored as a long-term plan to recover income loss of the island province.

Palawan, a world-class tourism destination, attributes around 36 percent of its total gross domestic product (GDP) from tourism.

With the global impact brought by the COVID-19 crisis, Alvarez eyes to strengthen domestic tourism and agriculture.

“Europe, America, and China sila mismo apektado kaya paano sila magta-travel? This is not final yet but we asked our officials to study about it,” he said.

Local officials were also told to deliberate on other “emerging” industries that may compensate for the impact of tourism loss.

“There will be a lot of changes in the commercial, political and demographics the way people behave. I suppose that there will be new industries emerging in order to supply the needs for the people who are not able to go to their places of work. Changes in lifestsyle, isipin na nila pano maka-negosyo outside tourism,” Alvarez added.

Reopening of airports would also be dependent on the order of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), he said.

“We are more of reactive. Maghihintay lang tayo because I’m sure sila din mismo pinag-aaralan ‘yan,” he added.

Alvarez also intends to go big on helping local farmers as a substitute industry. Farmers would be given an assistance for each hectare of the land they owned.

“Hininikayat ko ang lahat ng farmers bomba tayo sa ayuda. Substitute ng agriculture, otherwise, we are very lucky if we make 1 percent if not zero in our GDP,” Alvarez said.

However, Alvarez clarified that such plans were still under “careful study” and were yet to be finalized.

The provincial government has yet to issue its local laws, or issuances, which would set into motion said plans.