Palaweños stranded in Metro Manila and other Luzon provinces have bonded together online and are appealing to local government officials to help them come home through mercy flights.

Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) applicant Cherry Ann Bacar, in an interveiw with Palawan News on Sunday, estimated that there are over 300 of them stranded mostly in Manila. She said 287 joined an online group they recently organized, calling it “Manila 287 Stranded Palaweños”.

Bacar said many of them are running out of funds and are already desperate to rejoin their families.

Among the members of the group are stranded residents from the municipalities of Brooke’s Point, Araceli, Sofronio Española, Narra, Roxas, Bataraza, San Vicente, Aborlan, Rizal, Quezon, and Puerto Princesa City.

Bacar added that many of them are women who were in Manila processing their papers for work abroad when the Luzon-wide lockdown took effect.

“Marami pang [stranded] kaya lang ‘yong 287 ang una naming nai-send sa [Isumbong mo kay] Tulfo at sa Capitol. Ang dami pa nga pong tumatawag sa akin para magpalista, kaya lang napasa na kasi namin. Sa tagal na po namin na naka-quarantine, ubos na ang mga pera namin na pang-suporta sa sarili namin. Hindi kami binibigyan ng tulong ng barangay dito kasi hindi daw kami taga-rito,” she said.

Bacar, who is from Brooke’s Point, said they had also sought the help of board member Cesareo Benedito Jr. who committed to bring up the matter on Tuesday to the provincial board during their regular session.

Willing to undergo quarantine

Bacar said all of them are willing to undergo the 14-day quarantine if it is what local officials will demand just so they can go home to Puerto Princesa and their municipalities.

“Willing na willing kaming mag-undergo ng quarantine kaysa naka-stay po kami dito na walang perang panggastos. Kahit yong barangay dito ayaw kaming bigyan ng ayuda kasi nga sabi ay hindi kami taga-rito. Karamihan sa amin ay hindi nakatanggap ng ayuda simula pa po noong nag-umpisa ang quarantine,” Bacar said.

She added some of them are also OFWs who had returned to the Philippines after their work contracts were canceled due to COVID-19.

“Yong iba mga OFWs na nakapag-quarantine na rin pagdating nila dito. Ang nire-request talaga namin ay mercy flight po para makauwi na kami sa mga pamilya namin. Maawa naman sila sa amin, desperado na kaming makauwi,” Bacar pleaded.

Eating once a day

While staying in an accommodation facility in Taguig of her recruitment agency with two other Palaweñas, Bacar said sometimes they only eat once or twice a day.

The food is shared with them by the employees of the recruitment agency who are also from the province.

“Ang hirap talaga ng sitwasyon namin dito, halos wala na kaming makain. Karamihan sa amin nagbo-board lang, yong iba nakikitira na lang kasi yong iba nawalan ng trabaho,” she said.

Janet Tabang, a resident of Puerto Princesa who was also caught by the lockdown in Manila, said many of them are mothers who now feel miserable because they cannot be with their children.

On their list, there are also students, women who are pregnant and about to give birth, seafarers, and those who traveled to Manila for their check-up.

“Talagang hirap talaga yong kalagayan namin dito na stranded. February 6 pa ako nandito kasi pinadalhan na kami ng notice na mag-process ng papel namin papunta sa Saudi. Kaso habang nagpro-process kami, inabot kami ng lockdown. Yong pagkain namin dati, libre sa agency, sinasagot kami. Pero noong mag-lockdown, wala na talaga kasi hirap din sila,” Tabang said.

“Yong mga pamilya namin hindi rin makapadala kasi ang karamihan walang trabaho. Umaasa lang din sa amin ang pamilya namin. Sa pagkain talagang hirap, sa isang araw medyo tiis talaga. Sa isang araw, kakain kami isang beses, ang hirap talaga,” she added.

Mercy flight possibility

Even with the city and province already under the general community quarantine (GCQ), inter-municipal travel is still banned as Executive Order No. 48-2020 remains enforced by the provincial government to “curtail and eliminate” the threat brought about by COVID-19.

However, City Tourism Office (CTO) chief Aileen Cynthia Amurao said on May 1 that they are also looking at the possibility of repatriating stranded Palaweños in other provinces.

“We are also right now arranging yong mga pag-uwi naman ng mga stranded Palaweños sa Puerto Princesa from different provinces. Inaayos lang natin yong kanilang magiging accommodation dahil kinakailangan natin silang i-quarantine,” Amurao said.

“Huwag sila mainip dahil unti-unti inaayos natin, inuuna lang natin na palabasin muna, bago ‘yong papasok,” she added.

Amurao did not give any specific timeline on when this will happen, but she said among the important things that need to be set up is the rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) for returning city and provincial residents.

She encouraged the stranded residents to coordinate with their municipalities.

“Kinakailangan nilang magpalista kung saang munisipyo kasi lahat naman meron. Puwede sa munisipyo magpalista sila, ipaalam nila kung saan sila stranded kasi ico-communicate yan dito sa atin,” Amurao said.