By Chito Chavez
Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año on May 25, Monday, ordered police officers manning quarantine control points (QCPs) not to impede the lawful travel of some 24,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) going back to their hometown.
The DILG has confirmed that all 24,000 OFWs are negative for COVID-19 based on the PCR testing.
“Starting today (May 25) up to Wednesay (May 27) meron tayong 24,000 OFWs na iuuwi natin sa iba-ibang probinsya (we have 24,000 OFWs who are returning to the various provinces) using buses, airplanes, ships at itong lahat na 24,000 na to ay tapos na yung PCR testing nito, negative sila lahat, and meron silang certificate of quarantine so pinagbibigay alam lang natin ito sa publiko sapagkat nakikita natin na maraming movements na magaganap sa tatlong araw (And all these 24,000 OFWs have completed their PCR testing, all of them are negative for COVID-19. They also have certificates of quarantine so we are informing the public of this since there will be a lot of movements in the next three days),” he said in an interview over DZMM.
Año has reiterated that police and military men manning the checkpoints should not delay OFW-marked buses from Metro Manila to expedite their travels to their homes.
He noted “that the delay of allowing the OFWs to go out of the quarantine was due to the encoding, printing, and other functions.”
“‘Yung iba dyan dalawang buwan na dito sa Maynila kaya sana ay smooth passage itong lahat ng OFWs natin (Some of them have been in quarantine for two months here in Manila, so I hope for a smooth passage of all our OFWs),” Año said.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, has alerted all police commanders in the country for the exodus of OFWs back to their hometowns.
“Our task is to ensure the safe and unhampered passage of our OFWs. We should make sure that they’ll be accorded with [the] courtesy and respect they deserve,” Eleazar said in a statement sent to reporters on Monday.
Such moves were in compliance with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to expedite the return of stranded OFWs back to their homes.
To protect them from harassment and from other forms of discrimination, police assistance is needed, Eleazar pointed out.
To recall, the Department of Health (DOH), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) have arranged for transportation services that include buses, passenger planes, and ships for the OFWs.
Año ordered that OFWs who were subjected to mandatory quarantine will be released from the quarantine sites by OWWA, beginning on Monday until Wednesday, May 27.
They will be fetched from their respective quarantine sites and will immediately be moved to various transport hubs for land, air, and sea travel back to their hometowns.
“As per [Sec. Año], the plan is to transport 8,000 who have already finished the mandatory quarantine and tested negative in their RT-PCR test, every day from May 25 to May 27,” said Eleazar.
On orders of Año, Eleazar said buses will be available for the OFWs who are en route to Bicol, to the Ilocos Region, and to other parts of Luzon, while there will be available flights to Cagayan de Oro City, Tacloban City, Bacolod City, Davao City, Cebu City, Iloilo City, and Zamboanga City.
On May 26 and 27 more buses, ships, and flights will be available for the stranded OFWs.
A one-stop shop of government agencies will also be set up at the airport to assist the OFWs while waiting for their flight back home.
“If it requires that we escort the vehicles of our returning OFWs, so be it. The instruction of our [Sec. Año] and Chief PNP is to ensure that we provide all the necessary assistance for them on their travel back home,” said Eleazar.
“For as long as the OFWs have with them copies of quarantine certificate from the Bureau of Quarantine and a proof that they are on the list of those who tested negative for COVID-19, their travel back to their homes should not be denied or delayed,” he concluded.