By Leslie Ann Aquino
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said more than 23,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) have been transported back to their home provinces.
“As of Sunday noon (May 31), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said that 23,472 OFWs had embarked for their safe homecoming with their families,” said DOLE in a statement.
“The clearances of 538 workers are still being awaited,” it added.
The Labor department said all transported OFWs were given clearances after undergoing COVID-19 tests following prolonged quarantine in government designated facilities.
On Monday, President Duterte ordered the DOLE and OWWA to send home to their families within one week the estimated 24,000 repatriated OFWs staying in quarantine facilities.
All returning OFWs are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine in a government-designated facility and get tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to return home.
Some OFWs, however, complained of the slow release of their results and clearances after weeks or months in quarantine.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III apologized to OFWs for this, saying the government did not intend to inconvenience them with their prolonged quarantine and delayed test results.
“We apologize for the anxiety and discomfort that the unwarranted suffering may have caused our dear OFWs, all 24,000 or so of them,” he said.
“Our office simply has no control over the testing and issuance of clearances to them. But then again, this is not an excuse for us not to do better,” Bello added.
To prevent a repeat of what he described as a “disorderly process” of sending OFWs home, the labor chief said they organized a command center which will serve as a repository of data and information on the OFWs being repatriated to the country.
“This center will guide us in the formulation of proactive measures and crafting of policies in dealing with repatriation, reintegration, and assistance to OFWs who have been profiled even prior to their return to the Philippines,” Bello said.