By Genalyn Kabiling
Local government officials should not block the return of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to their hometowns especially after they have been declared “virus-free” in a quarantine facility, President Duterte warned late Monday night.
The President asked local executives to allow the entry of OFWs into their jurisdictions or else risk facing a problem with the national government.
These modern-day heroes workers, he said, have the right to return home to their families.
“To say that just — hindi kayo pwedeng pumasok (you cannot enter) even coming from abroad and even if staying there for already more than 14 days without anything happening to them, then the national government — makinig kayong (listen up) local executives — the national government will insist that you accept the OFW,” Duterte said in public address late Monday night.
“Magkakaroon ho tayo ng problema (We will have a problem) if you resist because then as a worker of government, it falls upon my shoulders to see to it that everything is done fair,” he added.
Duterte said there is no reason to delay the return of the OFWs “if they are found to be free from infection.” “To dilly-dally on this, it’s to me a cruel thing and it is not good,” he said.
He lamented that some local executives have refused to accept returning Filipinos to their areas of jurisdictions out of our fear they might be carriers of the coronavirus. He mentioned the incident in Iloilo City where a group of OFWs were prevented from flying back home.
“Now it will boil down to the power of the President to promulgate rules and regulations to protect public health which is actually an exercise of the police power of the state as against the bill of rights, because some workers coming from the outside are not welcomed. Simply, they are not being accepted by the local governments. So mahirap ito. This is a constitutional issue,” he said.
In the case of Iloilo City, Duterte appealed to the city mayor to follow the guidelines on the entry of OFWs.
“It’s either sumunod kayo or I will impose it on you. Sumunod kayo sa magandang paraan o pipilitin ko na sumunod kayo (Just abide by the rules or I will force you to follow) which is actually… You know, I do not want to embarrass people,” he said.
Duterte also reminded the local government executives about their duty to help and protect their constituents. He said he understands the local officials’ move to prevent the spread of the disease in their areas of jurisdiction but told them about the travel rights of OFWs.
“I’d like to address myself to the local executives. It is your duty to help and protect your constituents. I have no quarrel na you want the contagion stopped right there, there at the doorstep. Huwag ka na lang pumasok dito because you contaminate the whole of the family in the house,” he said.
“But you know, Filipinos are citizens of this country. And whether we like it or not, they have this constitutional right to travel — and to travel abroad and to come home after working there,” he added.
The government has facilitated the repatriation of around 24,422 Filipino workers as of last weekend. Of this number, 16,936 are sea-based workers and 7,486 are land-based. All OFWs arriving in the country are required to undergo a 14-day facility-based quarantine to contain the spread of the disease.
Duterte said the government will provide lodging facilities for the returning Filipino workers to complete their two-week quarantine upon arrival in the country. They will also undergo coronavirus testing to check “if they are fit to return and that she or he is not a threat to the community.”
Once they are cleared by the health authorities, he said the government will make arrangements so Filipino repatriates can go home.
“We can make provisions for the food and everything rather than just leave them there stranded. If they have the money in their pockets, I’m sure that was intended as a saving for the family at mauubos ‘yung pera na ‘yan at they would go home with their pockets empty. We do not want that to happen,” he said.
Duterte also recognized the contributions of OFWs to the country’s economic growth, saying they do not deserve any dismal treatment at home.
“Ang importante lang that the returning workers, our brothers and sisters who have labored abroad to give us also their share of their income with us. Kaya ‘yang remittances ng dollar is one of the pillars ng ating economy. Ang GDP diyan is malaki ang ibinibigay ng OFWs and we do not want to repay them with this kind of behavior,” he added.
He told local officials “not to play heroes” and instead simply abide by the rules of the national government. “We remain to be a unitary form of government. We are not federal. Federal maka ano ka because you have a great thing about local autonomy in its purest form,” he said.
Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., also the chief implementer of the government’s response against the coronavirus, assured the President that quarantine facilities have been arranged for returning OFWs.
“Actually sir we have prepared for the OFWs for their return. In fact, they are being fed by OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration). The hotel accommodation is being paid by OWWA and also by the manning companies. So they are well taken care of, sir,” he said.
He said they have also established “mega swabbing areas” to test OFWs and help facilitate their swift return home.
“After they test negative, maybe after three days or four days, they can go home already with the certification of the Bureau of Quarantine that they are COVID-free,” Galvez said in the meeting with the President on Monday.