Death of Michelle Silvertino sparks change in gov't efforts to help locally-stranded Filipinos

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11) — The tragic death of Michelle Silvertino, the single mother of four who died on a footbridge in the hopes of catching a ride back to her province, prompted the national government to exert more effort into bringing home locally-stranded individuals (LSI).

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday condoled with the family of 33-year-old Silvertino, who died on June 5. She stayed in a footbridge in Pasay City for five days after walking from Cubao in Quezon City, hoping to find a bus that will take her to her family in Calabanga, Bicol.

Due to the lack of public transportation during the general community quarantine, a friend said she stayed on a footbridge in EDSA-Pasay, where she was found unconscious and later declared dead.

The struggle of Silvertino mirrors the hardships of hundreds — possibly even thousands — of Filipinos hoping to go back to their hometowns amid travel restrictions enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Thursday, hundreds of stranded passengers were seen staying under the NAIA Expressway after their flights were canceled.

"Para na kaming nanlilimos dito," a stranded passenger told CNN Philippines. "Gusto lang namin makauwi sa aming mga pamilya,"

[Translation: We're like beggars here. All we want is to go home to our families.]

Roque said the case of Silvertino opened the government's eyes to the plight of locally-stranded individuals in the country. He said the Departments of Social Welfare and Transportation have been asked to help send home the affected Filipinos.

"Wala pong may gustong mangyari ito pero gagawa na po tayo ng hakbang para hindi na po maulit ang nangyari kay Michelle, Roque said in his regular media briefing. "Meron na tayong bagong polisiya na tutulungan ng gobyerno ang lahat ng stranded — yung mga nasa airport at sa mga bus [terminal]."

[Translation: No one wanted this to happen, but we will now take steps to make sure what happened to Michelle won't happen again. We have a new policy to help all those stranded in airports and bus terminals.]

Roque also said that while Filipinos from overseas are given "VIP treatment," the government is now crafting policies for the LSIs because "they are also Filipinos."

He said the LSIs will be brought to the Villamor Golf Course in Pasay to undergo rapid testing for COVID-19, adding they may be housed there while waiting for rides.

"Magsisimula tayo sa pagte-test sa kanila gamit ang rapid test kits diyan sa Villamor Golf Course at isasakay po sila pauwi ng DOTr at National Task Force," he said.

[Translation: We will start by testing them in Villamor Golf Course. Then the DOTr and NTF will find transportation for them.]

The government has no data on the number of Filipinos stranded across the country. Strict lockdown measures have been imposed since March 15. Although travel restrictions have been eased, provincial buses are still not allowed to ply the roads.

Meanwhile, the DSWD said it has given ₱15,400 to Silvertino's mother, who has taken custody of Michelle's children. It said it will also provide educational assistance to her three children who are in grade school. It added it has also given livelihood programs to her two siblings and food assistance for 10 days.

CNN Philippines correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.