By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY: Cohesive efforts for the safe return of repatriated Filipinos from Sabah have reeled off, with the Bangsamoro autonomous government dispatching on Tuesday, June 30 a team to receive the first batch of returnees within this week, a regional executive announced Wednesday.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, Bangsamoro government spokesman, said there are at least 5,300 Filipinos from Sabah who have been repatriated by the Malaysian government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Zamboanga City-based Aleson Shipping Lines has been commissioned as regular carrier of the repatriates to load at least 309 returnees for the first batch, he said.
“Our team is now in Zamboanga City, and the commissioned vessel was expected to arrive in Sabah on Thursday to load the first batch,” Sinarimbo, also Bangsamoro Local Government minister told The Philippine Muslim Today over the phone.
The frequency of shuttling the repatriates from Sabah has been set at bi-weekly (every two weeks) in conformity with the 14-day self-quarantine required by health authorities for people returning home to their respective home places, he said.
All of the 5,300 Filipino repatriates from Sabah will be brought home orderly and safe under prearranged cohesive efforts between the regional and national governments, according to Sinarimbo.
The national government is represented in the joint venture by the Inter-Agency Task Group Western Mindanao – Management of Returning Filipinos from Sabah (IATGWM-MREFS).
The Task Group is composed of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Office of Civil Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Bureau of Quarantine, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, and Bureau of Immigration.
In an earlier press statement, Defense Undersecretary Cesar B. Yano, a key official of the Task Group, said both the national and local government units pooled knowledge, resources and expertise to come up and carry out a plan of action for the safe repatriation of Filipinos from Sabah.
The group’s member-agencies were clustered according to their focus areas: International Humanitarian Assistance, Transportation and Logistics, Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Services (CIQS), Law and Order, Health, Social Services, and Strategic Communications.
The “command and control” of the repatriation program shall be led by the DSWD in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), as well as in Region 9, the group’s press statement said.
Prior to departure from Sabah, the Filipino returnees will undergo Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing, to ensure that they are free from the novel COVID-19 disease, the statement said.
Only half of the ships’ capacity between 309 and 400 passengers shall be allowed to board the ship to ensure social distancing, it added.
The returnees will disembark at Zamboanga City, before being ferried to their respective provinces. Their receiving local government unit (LGU) may subject them to further quarantine procedures, the Task Group said.
Some 50 percent of the 5,300 repatriates are bound for Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, while 30% are headed for Zamboanga Peninsula, while the remaining 20% will return to their provinces in other parts of the country, added the Task Group.
PHILIPPINE MUSLIM TODAY