By Leslie Aquino
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the government did not intend to inconvenience thousands of returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with their prolonged quarantine and delayed test results.
Bello said the Labor department and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) simply had “no control” over the testing and issuance of clearances.
About 24,000 OFWs have been kept in government quarantine facilities since their return to the country months ago.
Most of them have complained of the slow release of their test results and clearances after months of quarantine and tests.
President Duterte already issued a directive to the Labor department and OWWA to immediately send home all OFWs who tested negative for COVID-19 conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Red Cross.
Bello also ordered the designation of additional personnel from the department’s regional and attached agencies to beef up the manpower requirement of the OWWA in ensuring the smooth land and air transport and monitoring of OFWs from various quarantine facilities to their respective home destinations.
The Labor department has formed task groups to help expedite the movement of OFWs from various quarantine facilities to their respective home destinations, and facilitate the speedy processing of outbound workers.
In an administrative order, Bello also formed a separate task force to ease the processing of outbound land and sea-based workers whose country of destination has lifted the restrictions on the employment of foreign workers.
“We are doing this so as we don’t lose the jobs for our OFWs, while at the same time we help facilitate the quick homecoming and be of assistance to our returning workers,” he said.
Aside from facilitating the processing of inbound and outbound OFWs, the “hatid-probinsya” and “balik-abroad” task groups will serve as monitoring offices for onsite OFWs and those seeking repatriation.
The task groups are housed in a central command center manned by the heads of OWWA, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and DOLE’s International Labor Affairs Bureau.
The center will be supervised by former labor secretary Marianito Roque who will be assisted by three labor undersecretaries.