Envoy doubts videos of Saudi Arabia OFWs looking for food in garbage

Envoy doubts videos of Saudi Arabia OFWs looking for food in garbage
This undated file photo shows OFWs at an airport
The STAR / Rudy Santos, File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:39 p.m.) — Overseas Filipino workers filmed rummaging through garbage for food may only have been capitalizing on shock value to catch viewers' attention, a Philippine envoy said over the weekend. 

Videos that have made the rounds on social media showed Filipinos displaced by the coronavirus going through trash to find food and appealing to authorities to bring them home. 

Responding to the viral posts, Adnan Alonto, Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia, suggested that the videos may have been recorded to garner sympathy for the OFWs, writing: "If reports reaching me are true, I’m disappointed with some of our people who have resorted to theatrics to catch attention."

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office has said it had documented up to 26,000 displaced OFWs from Saudi Arabia. 

READ: 23,000 Pinoys displaced in Saudi

The Filipinos in one video also said that they had not been paid by their employer in months.

"Fact is food assistance was given. Mamulot ng basura? (Picking up trash?) C’mon!" Alonto added.

Another video circulating online also showed a separate group of OFWs doing the same, saying their contracts were terminated due to the outbreak of the new pathogen. They also claimed that government officials back home had done nothing to assist them in their plight. 

In an earlier tweet, Alonto said that the embassy was already working on repatriating the Philippine nationals with the offices concerned.

"We hope this gets to the Philippine government so they can help us get home. We're struggling here, we've been jobless for three months. Please help us get home," the OFWs said in the video.

Migrante: OFWs looking for food, not attention

In a statement issued later Sunday, Migrante-Middle East, an organization of OFWs working in the Middle East, slammed Alonto for what they said was his "wrong and out of touch" response to the viral video clips. 

Louie Perez, one of the OFWs featured in the videos, said: “We are not engaging in theatrics to try to get attention. Truth is, we do not have anything to eat. That is why we would wait for the garbage being thrown by supermarkets and would get the vegetables that are still edible."

According to Perez, many OFWs have applied for financial assistance under the labor department's Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong program but have not received anything. 

President Rodrigo Duterte's latest report to Congress on Monday, June 15, said that 61.3% of all beneficiaries of the program have received their money, almost three months since the law handing him special powers was signed. 

Only P1.5 billion out of the allotted P2.5 billion budget for the program has been utilized, serving only 153,322 of the estimated 250,000 total beneficiaries. 

Perez also bemoaned the "meager" food assistance extended by the Overseas Workers Welfare Office and the delay in repatriation promised by the POLO.

“For three months, we have been asking and waiting for repatriation because the food assistance given to us is so meager. When we follow up our requests with the POLO, the only response we get is ‘still under process.’ If we stay here any longer, we might die of hunger or disease. One of our fellow OFW has already died because of stress,” he  added.

For his part, Marlon Gatdula, Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chairperson, also said: “Ambassador Alonto should check his privilege. He can say what he said because he still has his job and continues to receive his huge salary." 

"If Alonto had tried to live for three months with the one-time assistance given to OFWs, he would know that OFWs scavenging for food are not merely engaging in theatrics or are just trying to call the public’s attention," he said. 

The groups, along with the Filipino Artists and Performers Society (FAPS) International, called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to recall Alonto for his statement. 

“Let us tell you, Ambassador Alonto, which is the real theatrics: your government’s claim that we OFWs are modern-day heroes. We do not feel cherished, we feel abandoned and left for dead by the government. C’mon!” Gatdula said. — Franco Luna




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