MANILA — The government “chose the lesser between 2 evils” when it packed thousands of stranded Filipinos into a stadium in Manila to shelter them from rains, risking the spread of the novel coronavirus due to lack of space, an official said Monday.
The Hatid Tulong program was supposed to help people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic come home to the provinces. Authorities were supposed to test the beneficiaries for the novel coronavirus at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex before their trip.
However, beneficiaries spread word of the program to other locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who flocked to the stadium without pre-registering with authorities, said Hatid Tulong lead convener Presidential Management Staff Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo.
Tents had not yet been set up outside the stadium when rains started pouring Tuesday night, forcing authorities to pack people inside the stadium. There were up to 4,800 LSIs there at one point, Encabo said.
“Doon po mas vulnerable sila sa sakit, lalong-lao na iyong mga bata, mga buntis, senior citizens at PWDs: Dahil po sa pagbagsak ng ulan, talagang kailangan naming maisilong ang mga tao,” he told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
(They are more vulnerable to the disease there, especially the children, pregnant women, senior citizens and PWDs: Because of the rain, we really needed to shelter the people.)
“We have to choose between 2 lesser evils here,” he said.
Ensuring that the stranded travelers had enough distance to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 “really took us time”, the official conceded.
A police band played wind instruments to entertain people at the stadium. Photos by Reuters journalist Eloisa show the officers with their anti-virus masks down so they could play music.
“Kahit papaano sa paghihintay natin, talagang may mga moments na mabo-bore o mapapagod ang isang tao kaya sa aming makakaya ay aliwin ang mga LSI. Nagpapasalamat din kami sa kapulisan… na sa mga oras na iyon ay nagbigay po sila ng kasiyahan o musika sa ating mga LSI,” said Encabo.
(While waiting, there will really be moments when we will be bored or tired so we entertain the LSIs as much as we can. We also thank the police for giving joy o music to our LSIs.)
Some 3,400 people had traveled to their provinces as of 11 p.m. Sunday, leaving some 1,200 others at the arena, he said.
Authorities will seek partnerships with the private sector to augment “limited” transportation assets. The government is also eyeing a “cluster” send-off so that there will be fewer travelers at a time and is looking for a bigger venue to accommodate beneficiaries before their trips, said Encabo.
“We believe in the competency of these government agencies that are helping us right now. It is a whole-of-government approach… We are very confident that we can do it better,” he said.