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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, June 15, 2020
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with Matè Espina


Rock & Refuge

As we welcome home stranded residents and overseas workers, it is inevitable that some of them may bring home the coronavirus especially if they come in from Metro Manila and Cebu where there are increasing cases of COVID-19.

Negros Occidental residents are lucky enough that the laboratory at the Silay provincial hospital is now open, thus, it is easier to immediately isolate those who test positive from the general community.

Thankfully, Rep. Albee Benitez, now the provincial consultant for Economic Development, announced last Friday that the Silay lab will accept swabs from Bacolod repatriates as well, instead of sending these to Iloilo which takes days, even weeks, before results are known.

I find it quite a bit off though that among the concerns raised by Bacolod Mayor Bing Leonardia is who would shoulder the cost of testing as they are enjoying free processing at the Western Visayas Medical Center. Geez! Are we that cash-strapped in Bacolod, a so-called highly-urbanized city, that we can’t even set aside the issue of who pays which and what?

But what kept tongues wagging apart from Mayor Bing’s query was the fact that Albee’s announcement came just a day after Gov. Bong Lacson said that no agreement has been reached between the city and the province to accept Bacolod swabs.

I’ve written about this and though I cannot fault the provincial government from initially not offering their services to city residents as there was lack of representation from city officials, humaneness could have been considered.

The provincial government experienced as well the frustration in the slow processing of swabs in Iloilo at the onset of the pandemic. It probably would have been less of an issue if humaneness was a factor in offering the service to Bacolod given that our city officials lacked the foresight of working hand-in-hand with the province.

It is thanks to Albee, who also donated a PCR and automated extraction machines in the Silay lab that Bacolod repatriates can now be processed there. Which all the more made me wonder, and I got calls asking the same, whatever happened to the provincial health consultant whom I never saw in the news since the pandemic started? Is something going on in the province? Who is really in command? Just asking.

And with this, some stranded residents have asked me to raise the question as well why LSIs, both in Bacolod and Negros Occidental, are being required to course their airfare tickets for sweeper flights through two particular travel agencies only.

A returning LSI in the province said, though he already had an unused ticket, he had to purchase a new one for the sweeper flights at P5,000. Another LSI for Bacolod also sent me a message in a group chat from a local official who told them to purchase their sweeper flight tickets from a local travel agency that charges between P5,000 – P7,000.

Good for those who need not blink to buy a new ticket, but there are many who are already running out of cash (if they have not ran out of it already) for getting locked down elsewhere in the past two months.

Many stranded residents have tickets on-hand that they can rebook to come home. However, they were told to coordinate with these two travel agencies who were put in-charge to charter sweeper flights. Unless you buy your new tickets on these flights, you have to wait for the resumption of commercial travel before the airlines will probably honor your unused tickets.

This is quite alarming because this gives undue advantage to those who clearly have more in life. It is also giving advantage to these two travel agencies and makes me wonder what’s so special about them and the ones only allowed to profit from this arrangement? And don’t give me the bull that none is profiting from this.

Of course the airlines like this arrangement as well as it gives them immediate revenue while refunding unused tickets take a long time and probably at a lower cost if these were purchased as promo fare before the lockdown. Again, where is the humaneness in this?

A Negrense, Marcia Canopin from Kabankalan, is an LSI that was featured in Rappler recently. She had a ticket for June 8 and I am not sure if she finally got on one of those sweeper flights. But in that interview, Marcia said “my ticket is my only hope. Missing the flight will mean continued hunger.”

She is not alone in that situation. There are many Marcias out there who have been languishing in shelters, among strangers, trying to survive in the last two months. They have nothing left except hope and prayers that they can be reunited with their families.

The least we can do is be humane enough to bring them home without making it more difficult for them.*

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