Bacolod seeks clear guidelines from national IATF on repatriation of OFWs

Published May 7, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Glazyl Masculino

BACOLOD CITY – Mayor Evelio Leonardia has appealed to the National Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases for a more rational system of repatriating overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound for Bacolod City.

Mayor Evelio Leonardia (FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)
Mayor Evelio Leonardia

In a letter dated May 3 and addressed to Cabinet Secretary and IATF co-chairperson Karlo Nograles, Leonardia said that they are respectfully seeking clearer guidelines from the IATF on how OFWs bound for the city get to be chosen to board whatever transport has been arranged for them by national agencies assigned to the repatriation program.

Leonardia said he had been getting a lot of complaints from OFWs already stranded in Metro Manila over the last two months but were unable to secure a firm reply from lead agencies in Manila on their inclusion in future sea repatriation voyages to Western Visayas.

He noted in his letter that he recently got the impression that the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) seemed to have become the lead agency for repatriating seafarers.

The mayor requested the NIATF for information on which lead agencies the Bacolod LGU can coordinate with regarding sea-based OFWs as against land-based OFWs because the recent organization of handlers for the repatriation program did not make this clear.

He also asked if lead agencies in charge of sending home OFWs to the provinces can adopt a “first arrive-first go home” system for those bound to return to their homes in Bacolod.

“We are willing to accept the repatriation of OFWs but [it should be done] in batches and in numbers acceptable to us so that any public health risks that may arise from these arrivals can still be managed within the City’s medical resources,” he said.

In addition, the OFWs approved by authorities in Manila to become part of any homecoming batch must comply with all the pre-boarding and post-disembarkation health protocols of the city government.

Among the pre-boarding health protocols is that the OFW should have completed a 14-day quarantine during which he has not developed symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and has tested negative for COVID-19 using the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method, and remains asymptomatic upon boarding any transport for home.

Upon arrival in Bacolod, post-disembarkation health protocols require that returnees shall, again, immediately undergo another quarantine of at least 14 days in any of the quarantine centers of the city (these are in public schools unless the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shall provide hotel quarantine at its expense) during which the returnees shall, again, be swabbed for COVID-testing (RT-PCR method). Only upon completion of the quarantine period and negative test results will the OFW be allowed to finally go home.

“Non-compliance with these protocols required by our City Health Office shall be grounds for our local government unit (LGU) to refuse entry to these OFWs upon their arrival in Bacolod City because we also have to keep safe the rest of the people in our City,” the local chief executive said.

The same letter was furnished to OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, Marina Administrator Robert Empedrad, National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director and Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) Administrator Usec. Ricardo Jalad, Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Joel Garcia, and Western Visayas IATF chair Jose Roberto Nuñez.