ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines July 5 (PIA) - The returning Filipinos who arrived Sunday in the city from Sabah in Malaysia say they are thankful they are finally home after their travel was organized by the government.
Junjun (not his real name) left the Philippines in 2018, hoping for greener pasture in Malaysia, but was arrested due to lack of proper documents.
"Napreso kami dun," he said. (We were sent to prison.)
Junjun said he knew the risks but still left. He worked for a while in a logging company, but was arrested by Malaysian authorities after having been discovered to lack documents.
Junjun does not want to return to Malaysia after the difficulties he encountered, and is looking to the Philippine government to provide opportunities at home.
"Yun yung kailangan namin, ayaw na naming bumalik ang hirap doon," he said. (That is what we need, we do not want to return, it is very difficult there.)
Junjun said he returned home practically without a single cent in his pocket. His experience is a commonality shared by the returning Filipinos who arrived on Sunday.
In a press briefing on Sunday morning, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Regional Director Fatima Caminan said the government has put in place livelihood measures for returning Filipinos.
"We would like our returning Filipinos to stay in the Philippines and access the programs of government so they won't have to be forced to go back and look for livelihood in difficult situations," Director Caminan said.
A total of 395 returning Filipinos were able to ride on this first trip, according to official data. The boat stopped over Bongao, Tawi-Tawi where some 298 passengers disembarked. The remaining 97 are composed of 13 from Zamboanga City, 3 from Zamboanga Sibugay, 5 from Zamboanga del Sur, 8 from Zamboanga del Norte, 16 from Basilan, 36 from Sulu, 1 from Mapun, Tawi-Tawi and 15 from other regions. The DSWD said it will will ferry the non-Zamboanga City passengers to their respective provinces, while the Zamboanga City-based returning Filipinos will still be subjected to quarantine in an isolation facility.
Meanwhile, returnees from Sulu, Basilan and the one from Mapun who cannot immediately go home due to unavailability of boat trips will temporarily stay at the DSWD Center in barangay Talon-Talon, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) regional director and Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (RDRRMC) chairperson Manuel Luis Ochotorena said Sunday. The REFs were provided with cash assistance, travel allowances, meals and family food packs provided by the DSWD and Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go's office.
An approximate 5,300 returning Filipinos will return from Sabah in the coming months, said Director Ochotorena. Batches composed of up to 395 persons will arrive in 15-day intervals, and all will be subject to rapid testing for COVID-19, he added. "If they tested positive, they will not be allowed to board," he emphasized.
The REFs' arrival was facilitated by government agencies that include the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), 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), Police Regional Office 9 (PRO-9), the Office of Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, 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)