By Roy Mabasa
Beginning Sunday (May 3), the repatriation of all distressed Filipinos abroad, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic will have to be “adjusted” to allow the government to properly handle the growing number of repatriates.
“Repatriation efforts are being adjusted to comply with the directives of the National Task Force on COVID-19. OFWs will remain where they are in the meantime – many ship crew members are assisted by their manning agencies, some others register with the embassy then proceed to pick-up points or the airport when a flight is scheduled,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in response to an earlier recommendation made by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) to temporarily suspend inbound commercial flights to the country.
The DFA, however, said those already at the airports will be assisted “as best possible under the circumstances.”
DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez said flights that are already en route may still be allowed to land, subject to existing conditions mandated by the IATF.
“I understand that some arrivals (especially those already en route) may still come in, but after those, none are expected in the meantime, save for the exceptions. Outbound flights appear to be open, all also subject to existing restrictions,” he stated.
On Saturday, National Task Force Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez requested the Department of Transportation to temporarily halt the use of the country’s international airports except for emergency incoming flights and cargo operations.
“This moratorium on flights is being imposed in view of the need to ramp up the capacity of our current systems to properly process the growing number of Filipino repatriates coming back coming back to the Philippines on a daily basis,” Galvez said in a letter addressed to the DOTr.
Galvez said the suspension will allow the government’s frontline agencies to upgrade their testing and screening protocols and expand their existing quarantine and medical facilities to adequately deal with the growing number of repatriates and COVID-19 cases in the Philippines.
As of May 2, the DFA said the Philippine government has assisted the repatriation of nearly 25,000 overseas Filipinos from all over the world, about 17,000 of them seafarers.