By Betheena Unite and Alexandria San Juan
More than 20 ships carrying Filipino seafarers are expected to arrive in the country in the coming weeks, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said on Wednesday.
Ten ships have been monitored at the Manila Bay anchorage area while 21 more ships will arrive. “More will arrive next month,” the Coast Guard said.
The PCG has yet to confirm the exact schedule of disembarkation of cruise ships at the Manila Bay anchorage area, pending inspection conducted by the Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Customs, and Bureau of Immigration.
“After a particular period, the Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Customs, and Bureau of Immigration will board the ships to conduct inspection,” the PCG said.
A team from the Coast Guard will also join the inspection to check if there are irregularities on the ships’ safety and their security documents. Once the Bureau of Quarantine clears the ship, Filipino seafarers will then be allowed to disembark.
Health protocols will be strictly implemented during the disembarkation and transportation of Filipino seafarers to designated quarantine facilities where they shall serve the mandatory 14-day quarantine, Commodore Armand Balilo, Coast Guard spokesman, said.
Filipino seafarers manning cruise ships that are issued with a “clean bill of health” by the Bureau of Quarantine shall be allowed to forego the 14-day mandatory facility-based quarantine, Balilo added.
As this developed, 584 repatriated and distressed seafarers have been cleared to go back to their respective provinces after they completed the 14- day mandatory quarantine.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), its “Seafarers Balik-Probinsya Program” is now in full-swing to assist the 584 seafarers who have been cleared of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to return home.
“The DOTr has already assisted two batches of repatriated and distressed seafarers. The first batch was composed of 305 seafarers, and the second was composed of 279 seafarers,” the Department said in a statement.
The sea-based overseas Filipino workers have been allowed to go home after the two-week mandatory selfquarantine in the quarantine vessels of 2GO Group, Inc. setup by the government for repatriates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The DOTr said that those who have completed the quarantine will be issued an Authority to Travel permit from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Managem,ent of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) and will be booked and reserved 2GO ship tickets to confirm the schedule of travel back to their respective provinces.
After coordinating with 2GO, a medical team from the PCG and the Bureau of Quarantine will conduct Rapid Antibody Testing to seafarers in an authorized medical facility in the area.
The seafarers will then be transported to Pier 4 in Port Area, Manila and, before checking in and boarding, authorities must assure that they passed the screening and testing protocols.
Authorities said some of the seafarers have been stranded in Manila since the start of the enhanced community quarantine.
Use ₱19.4-B funds for OFWs
Meanwhile, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to use its ₱19.4-billion trust fund so it can provide overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who returned to the country with decent quarters and other needs while they comply with the mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Philippines.
Gatchalian said that even if OWWA’s trust fund is not primarily intended for repatriation purposes, the agency should focus all its efforts and resources for the emergency repatriation of OFWs, especially during a crucial time when the country is in the middle of a COVID-19 crisis.
He made the call as he deplored the video depicting the condition of OFWs who are forced to share a cramped room in an OWWA shelter in Manila. A male migrant worker shared the video shared on his social media account.
“We are placing all OFWs arriving under quarantine in government-sponsored facilities in order to prevent the possibility of wider coronavirus infection in the country. But cramping all of them in a small room is a recipe for disaster. It’s like we are incubating time bombs with devastating consequences,” Gatchalian said.
According to the male OFW, Kuwaiti authorities took care of them in a quarantine facility and made sure they observed social distancing before returning to the Philippines.
They were taken back when they were forced to stay at an OWWA quarantine shelter in Manila where authorities totally disregarded stringent quarantine measures. They were also asked to join OFWs from Dubai and South Korea in the same quarantine area.
Gatchalian noted that many of the OFWs also took to social media to air their rants about the poor sanitation and lack of preventive measures in makeshift quarantine sites put up by the government.
He warned the Philippines may face a similar consequence similar to Singapore, which is now battered by a second wave of infections after its government overlooked conditions in some congested areas where many migrant workers are staying.
OWWA, he said, can also tap the help of the hotel sector in providing temporary quarantine areas. (With a report from Hannah Torregoza)