In a Press Conference last 23 June 2020, the President had this words to say, in verbatim, “Di pwede di makauwi mga kababayan natin. It is their right to go home, to live or die there”. The message of the President was clear. No debate about it. No room for another interpretation. That message was simple – bring home the stranded.

On a hot and hazy Sunday afternoon last July 12, 2020, 2GO vessel MV Saint Francis Xavier docked at Nasipit Port carrying a total of Eight Hundred Seventeen (817) Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) from Manila. These stranded people were part of the group whose travel was scheduled last June 27, 2020 but was canceled due to the moratorium on LSIs declared by Caraga Region. The stranded had to endure. They had suffered long enough. Finally on July 10, 2020 they had boarded the said mercy voyage.

Prior to their scheduled departure at Manila Port, Two Hundred Fifty-six (256) had to go through rapid testing at the Philippine Army Gym to erase doubts as to their health concerns. The tests of the One Hundred Fifty-six (156) of the said figure were facilitated by the group of PEZA Director General Charito “Ching” B. Plaza. All the rest submitted to testing at their own volition.

A day before their arrival on July 12, 2020, the Local Government Units concerned were already informed for them to prepare. Fortunately, all had responded well. All LSIs were fetched and no one was left behind. Even the LSIs destined for other Regions who had transited only in Caraga were also duly fetched by their LGUs.

Indeed, it was PEZA’s ‘last dance’ after facilitating and organizing numerous mercy flights and voyages.  However, the fight for the LSIs’ return to their homes continue. This time, it will be under the Hatid Tulong Program lead by the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).

On D-day, all concerned government line agencies were there and were on top of the situation.  They had played their respective roles well. By and large, it was a huge success.

All told, no doubt that Caraga Region had responded well to the call of our President. But more than that, it is our solemn duty to perform our tasks as public servants that had been put into the test during these trying times. We had never evaded our oath last July 12. Hence, kudos to Caraga Region’s Team LSIs and ROFs!

The fight continues. Our service will not end soon.

By Michael Angelo B. Tero, CoRe Regional Project Officer, Designated Regional Desk Officer for LSIs and ROFs

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