Cotabato City—The Bangsamoro Interagency Task Force (BITF) braced for the arrival Friday of the first batch of 5,000 Filipino deportees from Malaysia after prior coordination with Kuala Lumpur authorities, officials of the autonomous region here said.
Minister Naguib Sinarimbo of the Interior and Local Government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (MILG-BARMM) said the region has deployed humanitarian workers to Zamboanga City for the arrival there this weekend of the first batch of 5,000 Filipinos returning from Sabah.
Sinarimbo, who also heads the BARMM-Rapid Emergency Assistance to Disaster Incidents (READI), said the region’s humanitarian team will provide initial services, including random medical consultation before sending them to the region’s isolation areas.
BIATF spokesperson Mohammad Asnin Pendatun said BARMM authorities has also had prior coordination with their Malaysian counterparts to subject to PCR laboratory tests the Filipino families returning to Mindanao from a long residency in Sabah.
As it is in BARMM, observers elsewhere have linked current increases in COVID-19 cases to the massive influx of returning residents, availing of the Hatid Probinsya Program of the national government.
Pendatun said BARMM has posted three new cases in Basilan and five more in Lanao del Sur—seven among LSIs and one ROF. This brings the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in BARMM to a total of 134 patients.
“We don’t have to worry because we already have an agreement with our counterparts from the government of Malaysia to have all the deportees undergo PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing before they depart Sabah,” Pendatun said.
He said the returning Filipino families will be arriving by batch 395 persons in every two weeks, the first of which is expected this week.
“The first batch of 395 Filipinos from Sabah underwent PCR testing and they had all tested negative,” Pendatun said.
The entire BARMM will remain under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) category until July 15, he said.
“In Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, since they have high cases, there will be strict local action, meaning we will strictly impose the minimum health standards as per National IATF’s directive,” Pendatun said.