ZAMBOANGA CITY, July 29 (PIA) - The 393 persons comprising the second batch of Returning Filipinos from Sabah (REFs) that arrived in Zamboanga City Port tonight (July 29) are COVID-19-free, said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Assistant Secretary Joyce Niwane. They all underwent real time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests and reaped negative results.
"The government allotted Php50-million for the swabbing of the REFs using the gold standard for COVID-19 testing to make sure they are all COVID-19 free," Niwane said. Even government officials and staff that accompanied the REFs have also been swabbed and have negative COVID-19 results. "The Malaysian government also requested the swabbing of the government employees."
As per data released by DSWD-9, of the returning Filipinos, 25 are from Zamboanga City, 4 from Zamboanga del Norte, 7 from Zamboanga del Sur and 13 from Zamboanga Sibugay. Meanwhile, 62 are from Basilan, 59 from Sulu and 172 from Tawi-Tawi. Other REFs come from Pasay, Makati, Bulacan, Laguna, Quezon, Lucena City, Bukidnon, Cebu City, Misamis Occidental, Davao City, Sultan Kudarat and Palawan. 43 of the REFs are minors.
Earlier, Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco expressed her concern over the docking and staying of the REFs in the city, considering that COVID-19 cases are on the rise. She reiterated that REFs must only be given a maximum of 12 hours holding time in the city and must immediately be picked up by their originating local government units (LGUs) upon arrival.
However, Niwane explained that this might not be possible.
"We really hope that they will only stay for a maximum of 12 hours. But we have a problem with the REFs who need to leave via plane and via boat. They have to wait for the departure schedules," she said. However, contracted buses immediately ferried other passengers after arrival and processing.
"But we can assure the mayor and the residents of Zamboanga that they will be staying in the DSWD compound here, and will not be allowed to leave for any reason," Niwane added.
Meanwhile, a technical working group will map out plans to provide livelihood and other assistances to the REFs as part of the long-term solution.
"There will be an intensive planning before the next batch comes home. We want to make sure that they will find no reason to go back," Niwane said.
A total of 5,300 REFs are expected to arrive from Sabah in batches between 15-day intervals, said Office of Civil Defense IX Regional Director Manuel Luis Ochotorena in an earlier interview.
"We hope the LGUs will not get tired of helping. We know everyone is fatigued, but this is the time to show real love to our brothers and sisters," Niwane added.
The REFs' arrival was facilitated by government agencies that include Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Ministry of Social Services and Development - BARMM, Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Joint Task Force Zamboanga (JTF-Zamboanga), National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), PNP-Maritime Group, Zamboanga City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (ZCDRRMO), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), Armed Forces of the Philippines - Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WESTMINCOM), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Department of Health (DOH), Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), Police Regional Office 9 (PRO-9), the City Health Office (CHO) and the local government units of Zamboanga City and of the ROFs' home provinces and cities. (NBE/DIS/PIA9-ZAMSULTA)