As of last week, DOLE estimated 302,216 OFWs were “displaced, distressed, stranded of infected” by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number is expected to balloon to 500,000 by year-end.
AFP/Yasser Al-Zayyat
OFWs stuck in quarantine sites all home by Saturday — DOLE
Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - May 29, 2020 - 1:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — All 24,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stuck in government quarantine facilities should be home either “today (Friday) or tomorrow (Saturday),” the Department of Labor and Employment said.

“I would really like to apologize to our OFWs for the anxiety, discomfort and unwarranted sufferings that we have caused them,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told reporters in an online briefing.

“I wish to restate that the government did not intend to inconvenience our OFWs with their prolonged quarantine and delayed test results. Our office simply had no control over the testing and issuances of clearances to them,” he added.

As of Thursday evening, Bello said a total of 19,010 migrant workers overstaying in state-facilitated isolation hubs had been “safely” transported home. “About 5,000” more workers are in the process of being dispatched.

Of OFWs already sent home, transportation department data showed 15,591 OFWs were sent home to their provinces, while the balance were transported to their homes using private vehicles or through other modes provided by different agencies like the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. By origin, Bello said 60% of migrant workers being assisted came from the Middle East.

As protocol, returning workers are tested for coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) infections and are mandated to stay isolated for 14 days when test results and clearances from the Bureau of Quarantine are processed. 

But Bello admitted the entire process was hampered after the bureaucracy was “overwhelmed” by a surge of OFWs coming home. The scenario, in turn, resulted in delays on releasing testing results, and prolonging the stay of workers in isolation from the mandated 14 days to “one and a half months” at the longest. 

Over the weekend, President Duterte gave an “ultimatum” to state officials to complete the release of workers crowding out quarantine facilities within one week. DOLE promised to do to the job in three days ending last Wednesday, but obviously did not meet its self-imposed target.

In the entire process, Bello said problems encountered included clearances for release being sent out to wrong people, and in some cases, the government losing track of where an OFW was isolated due to the volume of stranded workers. Local government units (LGUs) were also causing delays.

“There are still some LGUs which do not want to let OFWs in despite having complete clearances. In this case, we cannot do anything so as a compromise, if they (LGUs) said that OFWs would have to be quarantined again in their vicinity, then we just agree to it,” Bello said, partly in Filipino. 

“We committed to safely bring home our OFWs who were virtually locked up in various quarantine facilities over an extended period of time,” he said.

Getting ready for 42,000 more OFWs

With the task nearly finished, DOLE is already being preparing for the expected influx of another 42,000 returning OFWs by next month. Part of the plans include testing OFWs for COVID-19 in their country of origin “to prevent a repeat” of delays in test results. If this will proceed, DOLE will shoulder the testing costs.

LGUs will also be informed a week ahead before OFWs are transported back to their home provinces, Bello said.

Another is the establishment of a “command center” whose job is to track OFW returnees before they land in the country so that they are easily assisted and directed to quarantine facilities.  The center will also serve as “repository of data and information” for OFWs.

As of last week, DOLE estimated 302,216 OFWs were “displaced, distressed, stranded of infected” by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number is expected to balloon to 500,000 by year-end.

A MIDDLE EAST LABOR SECRETARY SILVESTRE BELLO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS OFWS
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