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DFA looks to bring home over 37,000 OFWs in next 3 to 4 weeks

/ 03:42 PM June 26, 2020

FILE — Repatriated OFWs arrive at the NAIA Terminal 2 to board their flights as the NAIA resumes operations on June 1, 2020, under the General Community Quarantine. INQUIRER/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is eyeing to bring home more than 37,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic in the next three to four weeks, an official told lawmakers Friday.

During the hybrid hearing of the House committee on public accounts on issues related to the repatriation of OFWs, DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said that their office “stands ready” to bring home “as many OFWs as possible.”

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This plan, however, is dependent on whether or not the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and other concerned agencies would allow them to.

“We are planning to bring home if we are allowed by the CAAP, 37,660 overseas workers in the next three to four weeks. The DFA stands ready to bring home as many OFWs as possible but we have to follow also the regulations because we are bound by the flight caps, the number of OFWs that can enter,” Arriola said.

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“We understand the other agencies because the problem is, of course, we do not want them to be stranded in Metro Manila and we thank BCDA (Bases Conversion and Development Authority) that Clark is also receiving OFWs,” the foreign affairs official added.

According to Arriola, DFA has so far repatriated more than 56,000 OFWs. Of this number, more than 31,000 are sea-based while more than 25,000 are land-based OFWs.

“[Sea-based OFWs] are the ones who are stranded in crew ships and we are making sure that it is going to be very fast because the mental health issues of our seafarers are at stake,” Arriola said.

As per the land-based OFWs, Arriola said that more than 6,000 OFWs from Saudi Arabia, where there is a “staggering” number of Filipino workers, have been brought home.

Arriola, however, cited several issues with regard to the repatriation of OFWs in Saudi Arabia such as the size of the country and Filipino government workers who are afflicted with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“We also wish to inform the committee that our problem with Saudi Arabia is the size also because Riyadh, the province of Riyadh, is bigger than the Philippines,”

“Our POLO OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), with the indulgence of [Labor] Secretary [Silvestre] Bello, in Riyadh is closed down because 14 to 15 of its staff are infected with COVID and unfortunately, our consulate general in Jeddah is on lockdown because there are also infections inside the embassy,” Arriola added.

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Budget concerns

Further, Arriola also cited concerns with DFA’s budget should it proceed with the aggressive repatriation of OFWs.

“The bigger problem also, we have a very high utilization rate and if we continue repatriating aggressively, since we already have 30 to 31 percent of the remaining P1 billion funds for the assistance to nationals, by the end of August or mid-August, we would not have funds for repatriation anymore,” Arriola said.

Arriola underscored that the capacity of other government agencies has to be considered as well in repatriating OFWs.

“We have to take also into consideration the capacity of other government agencies pero kung kami lang and tatanungin, gusto namin mag-uwi na ng mag-uwi because our people are getting desperate and there’s a lot of suffering on the ground but at the same time, we are also balancing it with the interest of the other agencies kasi dito rin naman sila mast-stranded,” Arriola said.

If DFA will be given enough funding support, Arriola said that “we could ask our embassies and consulates all over the world to give relief pending repatriation.”

“We can also make representations with host governments to extend their stay there but they’ll be placed in shelters because some of them do not have places to stay in already because they have no money to pay rent,” Arriola said.

“The problem with their accommodation like in UAE is very cramped so it’s possible that they will infect each other. So we were thinking if we will repatriate as fast as we could, provided that the agencies in the Philippines will be able to absorb those who are entering, but those waiting repatriation should be given financial support,” she added.

 

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