Bohol governor says Galvez apologized for ‘fast and furious’ sending of OFWs to hometowns

BOHOL Governor Arthur C. Yap said Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., chief implementer of the national coronavirus response program, has apologized for the sudden return of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to their hometowns without proper notification to local governments.

“Sec. Galvez was very apologetic that in the last few hours, they have had to fly and ship OFWs home without any prior nor specific notice to the Governors and LGUs (local government units),” Mr. Yap wrote late Tuesday on his Facebook page where he provides a regular update on the coronavirus response measures.

“Sec. Galvez says that it is a crisis of proportions we, nor they, cannot imagine, for which reason, they have been ill prepared to deal with the volume of OFWs coming home,” he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday ordered national government agencies to pull together all available resources to bring the workers home after many of them have been stuck in quarantine facilities in Manila beyond the 14-day mandatory isolation period.

The agencies have been given a week to organize the return of 24,000 OFWs as the government is expecting more returning Filipinos in the coming weeks.

“It seems the returning OFWs program of the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), is pressured to show more returning OFWs being sent to the countryside. For which reason the arrivals have been ‘fast and furious,’” the governor said.

In Negros Oriental, Assistant Provincial Health Officer Liland B. Estacion said they had to adjust the scheduled return of 156 residents who have been stranded in Dumaguete City to give way to the arrival of OFWs.

Ms. Estacion, in a statement from the provincial government, said the problem was not just the lack of notification from the national government but also the absence of information on the returning workers.

“Since there is no masterlist, we requested PAL (Philippine Airlines) to give a locator form to be filled up by all those who arrived so we will know who they are and their LGUs (local government unit)” in case the need for contact tracing arises.

In Iloilo, the provincial government had to make a swift decision to use the Iloilo Sports Complex as a registration area to accommodate the influx of OFWs.

Dr. Maria Socorro Colmenares-Quiñon of the Provincial Health Office said they had “a minor problem with the arrival of 162 repatriates on board three separate flights on Monday because they were informed just a day before the schedule.”

Apart from those on flights, local authorities had to handle 235 repatriates who were expected to arrive via a 2Go ship as well as returning residents who were stranded in other parts of the country.

Ormoc Mayor Richard I. Gomez, whose May 25 social media post over his frustration on the lack of coordination from national agencies became viral, said on Tuesday that all he wants is to ensure both public safety in his coronavirus-free city and the success of the repatriation program.

In a statement in mixed Filipino and English posted on the city’s social media page, he said, “We want to work with you, we want to make it a success, because at the end of the day, if the program fails, it’s also a failure on the part of the LGU.”

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) announced Wednesday that it has established a task force to speed up the return of OFWs to their homes.

“The labor department has formed task groups to help expedite the movement of overseas Filipino workers from various quarantine facilities to their respective home destinations, and facilitate the speedy processing of outbound workers,” DoLE said.

OWWA expects 300,000 OFWs to come back to the country as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the global economy.

OWWA Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac, in a briefing Wednesday, said they will revive the livelihood assistance program Balik Pinas, Balik Hanapbuhay with an initial P700-million fund.

“Approximately, it will reach 50,000 for the first round of beneficiaries,” Mr. Cacdac said.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra warned that local officials who will not accept returning OFWs may be held liable for violation of the law declaring a national emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If LGU officials continue to defy this directive, they may be held administratively and criminally liable for violations of the Bayanihan Act,” he told reporters via Viber. — Marifi S. Jara, Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas

PhilRice launches food security program in Nueva Ecija

THE Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) has launched a project in Lupao, Nueva Ecija that aims to increase and diversify the harvest of rice farmers in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

In a statement, PhilRice said the project, named Sa Palay at Gulay, may Ani, Hanapbuhay, Oportunidad, at Nutrisyon (PAG-AHON), will be implemented through farmers’ field school, technology demonstration, and partnerships with farmer-associations and cooperatives.

Project lead Dr. Roel R. Suralta said planting of fast-growing vegetables, distribution of seeds and seedlings, and providing planting guides will be included in the PAG-AHON.

“The project will also feature crop diversification, PhilRice-East-West Rice and vegetable techno demo, and community food hubs,” Mr. Suralta said.

A 2015 report by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showed Nueva Ecija ranked fifth among provinces with the highest number of food-secure households in Central Luzon.

“3 out of 10 households in Central Luzon produce their own food. About 38% consume dark, green leafy vegetables from their own harvest, while 34% grow their own Vitamin-A rich fruits to eat,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Lupao Mayor Alex Rommel V. Romano said the project will provide more sources of income to their farmers, while ensuring their food supply.

“This project is a big help to Lupao, especially that we only produce rice once a year,” Mr. Romano said.

The PAG-AHON project is implemented by PhilRice, together with the local government of Lupao, East-West Seed Company, and Lupao Vegetable Growers Association. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

More Quezon City residents can now use PayMaya to claim benefits

SENIOR citizens, persons with disability, and solo parents in Quezon City can now use PayMaya to get their financial benefits under the local government’s aid program.

“Quezon City joins other local government units who are finding innovative solutions to the unique problems we face today, particularly in providing financial aid to communities and families who need it the most during this time,” PayMaya Founder and Chief Executive Officer Orlando B. Vea said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Quezon City government previously tapped PayMaya for the distribution of allowances for student scholars.

PayMaya users can encash funds through Smart Padala agents, withdraw from any Bancnet ATM, make purchases online, and do other digital transactions.

Incentives, tax relief proposed for Davao City businesses helping in COVID-19 response

THE Davao City council is reviewing a proposal to provide incentives and tax relief to businesses supporting the local government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Under the proposal, establishments that waived rental fees to tenants, served as quarantine facilities, and made donations relating to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) relief and mitigation program can deduct corresponding costs from their gross sales.

“Those establishments that allowed to be used as quarantine facility you can also put that. The gross sales receipt less the aforementioned deductible amount shall be the basis of your business taxes,” Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who submitted the proposal to the council, said in Visayan over the local government-run radio.

The plan is due for second reading by the council committee on finance, ways and means.

The city government has also suspended the implementation of the final phase of the real property tax increase to help businesses affected by the lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Tax payment deadlines have also been moved.