By Hannah L. Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to use its P19.4-billion trust fund so it can provide overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who returned to the country with decent quarters and their 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.
The senator made the call as he deplored the video depicting the condition of these OFWs who are forced to share a cramped room in an OWWA shelter in Manila, citing a video shared by a male migrant worker 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 aback, however, 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 said quarantine area.
Gatchalian noted 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.
“Kapag nagpatumpik-tumpik tayo at naging maluwag sa protocol, ma-babalewala ang mga pinaghirapan natin (If we hesitate and if we become lax on our protocols, we will lose whatever gains we achieved),” the lawmaker said.
“Kung hindi natin inaalagaan ang ating mga OFW alinsunod sa mga alituntunin para maiwasan ang pagkalat ng virus, tiyak babalik din sa gobyerno at sa ating lahat ang problema, kaya dapat siguraduhin natin na susunod ang lahat ng mga hakbang kontra COVID-19 (If we are not going to take care of our OFWs based on the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, the problem will rebound to our government and to all of us, so it’s necessary for us to follow all the guidelines against COVID-19),” he said.