Olongapo, SBMA At Loggerheads Over Alleged “Disinformation” On OFW Repatriation

Sen. Richard J. Gordon’s call for the Dept. of Transportation (DOTr) to divert the flights of some of the returning 300,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) to the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) and facilitate their tests for Covid-19 at the Red Cross (PRC) Molecular Laboratory in the Subic Bay Freeport has brought to the fore the lingering animosity between Olongapo City Hall and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) leadership.

The Philippine Red Cross warehouse in the Subic Bay Freeport where it also runs a Molecular Laboratory for Covid-19 tests. SubicBayNews photo by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.

Accusing each other of politicking and spreading disinformation in the midst of the pandemic, the social media has become a battleground for both camps, with officials, employees and alleged “trolls” joining the fray.

“Kung may malasakit ang pamunuan ng SBMA sa atin, dapat kinu-konsulta nila tayo at ipina-alam ang plano para makapag-tulungan nang hindi nailalagay sa panganib ang kalusugan at buhay ng mga taga-Olongapo,” Paulino, Sr. told Subic Bay News in a phone interview, “bagamat mga kapwa natin sila Filipino at wala tayong tutol na sila ay makauwi ng matiwasay sa kani-kanilang pamilya.”

He added that the SBMA leadership also owes it not only to Olongapo but other outlying communities, namely, the towns of Subic, in Zambales province, Hermosa, Morong and Dinalupihan in Bataan, to, as a matter of courtesy, talk with the local leaders. “Pag-uusap lang po ang hinihiling natin,” Paulino, Sr. said.

SBMA Chairman & Administrator Wilma T. Eisma, however, said in a press release “that as early as April this year, the OWWA and DOT have been talking about OFW repatriation with the tourism departments of both the SBMA and Olongapo City.”

“If former Olongapo Mayor Rolen Paulino is saying we did not consult them about this plan, then he is promoting disinformation,” Eisma said, “he is barking up the wrong tree, and prematurely at that,” citing that the plan to use Subic as gateway for OFWs is not an SBMA initiative, but a program managed by the National Task Force on Returning Overseas Filipinos (NTF-ROF).

Olongapo City Tourism head Fifi T. Gavino, however, belies Eisma’s contention of a consultation on the matter in April this year.

“We had the group chat conversation regarding hotels nga daw to open, magkakaroon ng inspection sa mga hotels together with the PNP, Provincial Health Office of Zambales, Tourism and Bgy. para sa OFWs pero na-abort iyon kasi as per OWWA and DILG, may instruction na walang lalabas sa provinces, dapat Manila lang lahat and at that time ECQ pa tayo lahat,” Gavino told Subic Bay News.

“Since then, wala nang usapan nangyari,” Gavino added, “ and I also mentioned to ChAd (Eisma) na dapat si Mayor Lenj (Paulino, Jr.) ang kausapin niya para derecho na head to head mag-usap, ‘wag ako kasi sundalo lang ako na may Boss, gaya niya Boss niya si Senator Dick dahil involved ang Red Cross.”

Eisma said she has “already advised concerned government agencies about the demand for consultation,” clarifying that “Subic is being considered only for any spillover of OFWs being repatriated through the Manila and Clark Airports, as the SBIA still has no night-landing capability.”

“We’re still working on that capability, so until then, OFW flights cannot land in Subic and we would only be available for the spillover. If the hotels in Manila, Clark, and Angeles City can no longer keep up with the number of returning OFWs, then that will be the only time that Subic would come in,” Eisma said, adding that at the local level, “the repatriation plan would still have to be approved by the SBMA Board.”

Paulino, Sr., however, said the plan is already in place, proof of which is SBMA’s move last week requiring hotels in the Subic Freeport to confirm the number of rooms they are allocating for the returning OFWs. “Hindi ba malinaw na siya ang nagdi-disinformation?” Paulino said, “mga hotel owners at management mismo ang nagsabi.”

Identified with the Gordon family which used to dominate local politics in Olongapo in the past, Eisma is touted to be gunning for city hall in the coming elections, thus, despite her repeated denials of having political plans, she is alleged to be undermining the current city administration for political ends.

Eisma said she has tried to reach out. “believe me, it’s not for the lack of trying on my part,” she said, “instead of talking in social media, we should talk to each other so when we talk to the public, we have complete information.” (VVV/LRGO)


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