MANILA, Philippines — If he is really one of 100 most influential people in the world as Time magazine says, then President Aquino should not hesitate to use diplomacy and mobilize the government’s resources to help the thousands of undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing arrest and deportation in Saudi Arabia, according to a former ambassador.
“Mr. President, I wish you can directly act on the problems of the 3,000 stranded OFWs, including children, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia now staying in makeshift tents in virtually boiling temperatures,” Roy Señeres, former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.
Señeres was referring to the OFWs who have camped outside the Philippine consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, asking to be repatriated quickly before Saudi authorities resume their crackdown against illegal and undocumented workers in three months.
The former ambassador, citing sources in Saudi Arabia, said the number of Filipinos camped outside the consulate had reached 3,000. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) placed the number at around 1,000, saying undocumented OFWs “come and go,” while local Saudi dailies said the campers numbered more than 2,000.
Señeres said Aquino should invite the Saudi ambassador to Malacañang and ask him to make representations with Saudi King Abdullah to allow the stranded OFWs to stay in Jeddah’s air-conditioned sports stadium.
The former envoy said the President should also instruct Philippine ambassadors in neighboring UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Iran to proceed to Saudi Arabia and assist Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago.
Tago and his staff, even if they are “among the best” in the foreign service corps, “just cannot cope with the magnitude of the problem,” according to Señeres, who is the first nominee of the OFW Family party-list and whose son Christian is a senatorial candidate of the Democratic Party of the Philippines.
The former envoy also said the President should release a “substantial amount” from his calamity fund to defray the cost of repatriating the OFWs.
“Needless to say, this is a calamity,” Señeres said.
The President, he added, should also ask the Philippines’ fellow member-states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) “to urge their national airlines to provide free plane tickets to the stranded Filipinos to Manila and by way of reciprocity, provide the same privilege to fellow Asean citizens on Philippine flag carriers who may be encountering the same problems in Saudi Arabia.”
Aquino should also conduct regional gatherings of the families of the stranded OFWs in the Philippines “to give them appropriate psychological counseling, financial assistance on account of the sudden job dislocations of their breadwinners, and other forms of assistance.”