Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Assistant Secretary Joseline Niwane (center), DSWD’s representative to the Inter-Agency Task Group Western Mindanao for the Management of the Returning Filipinos (IATGWM-MREFs), and other members of the group inspect the ship that will be used to ferry Filipino transferees from Sabah.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), together with the members of the Inter-Agency Task Group Western Mindanao for the Management of the Returning Filipinos (IATGWM-MREFs), will provide assistance to some 5,300 Filipino transferees from Sabah.

The transfer is being organized after the Malaysian government’s implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) in their country.

The Filipino transferees from Sabah will arrive in batches to ensure that government health protocol against Covid-19 will be followed. This includes undergoing the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test before being allowed to board the ship and observing the social distancing policy while on board.

DSWD assured that only those who tested negative of the RT-PCR will be allowed to be brought to Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga City as the main drop-off points.

The Department has already coordinated with the local executives of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi (BASULTA) provinces and the city government of Zamboanga City for the arrival of the Filipino transferees. Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco-Salazar chairs the local IATGWM-MREF.

For transferees with registered addresses outside of the main drop-off points, DSWD and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) have also coordinated with concerned local government units (LGUs) to facilitate their transfer and provide appropriate assistance, including referral for proper accommodation or health facilities, when necessary.

The Department will also assess the emotional state of the transferees in terms of their anxiety and stress level using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS)-21 assessment tool. The result of the assessment will be useful to gauge other psycho-social interventions that they need.

Likewise, DSWD, through its Field Office IX, will provide family food packs, sleeping kits, and hygiene kits to all the transferees. The Department has allotted around P39 million to assist them. In addition, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Ministry of Social Services will provide them with financial assistance.

Other members of the inter-agency task force include the DILG, Department of Health-Bureau of Quarantine, Philippine Ports Authority, Department of Transportation-Maritime Industry Authority, Department of National Defense, National Intelligence Coordinating Authority, Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command, Philippine National Police, Department of Foreign Affairs, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, Office of Civil Defense, Overseas Workers Welfare  Administration, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine Coast Guard, and the BARMM Ministries of Social Services and Development, Interior and Local Government, and Health and Transportation.

All members of the inter-agency task force will prepare a long-term plan for the integration of the transferees in their respective communities. ###