By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has called for a “calibrated” voluntary repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) displaced by the coronavirus pandemic to ensure “a sense of order.”
In a meeting with some Cabinet members last Thursday, the President suggested the designation of a point person who will orchestrate the movement of OFWs who want to return to the country not only to avoid inconvenience but also to prevent overwhelming the government’s capacity.
“I would just like to know if there is somebody on our end, ‘yung gobyerno, doing the orchestration there para ma ano sila, there’s a sense of order in their coming back — calibrated para hindi tayo maipit (so we won’t be overwhelmed),” Duterte said in his remarks aired on government television Friday.
The President asserted that the government must look after the welfare of the OFWs, saying they should be “our number one worry.”
“You know, the day that we learned about the plight of the returning overseas Filipinos, we were able to implement a solution for them to be back home. They should be our number one worry because they are Filipinos,” he said.
The President recently directed authorities to send home around 24,000 OFWs stuck in quarantine centers in Metro Manila once they have obtained their health clearances. The President’s order was issued after getting complaints that many OFWs were staying in quarantine centers beyond the two-week period due to the delays in the release of their test results.
The government has extended transportation assistance to OFWs back to their hometowns to make room for thousands more of workers who are expected to arrive in the country this month. At present, the OFWs are required to undergo coronavirus testing and two-week quarantine as a precaution against the disease outbreak.
In the meeting with the President, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that a new system is in place to facilitate the smooth repatriation and eventual testing of OFWs.
Lorenzana, head of the national task force on the coronavirus response, said the OFWs will stay in Manila for a maximum of five days to curb overcrowding in quarantine facilities. Metro Manila already has enough testing facilities to conduct the test on returning OFWs, he added.
With 42,000 OFWs expected to return to the country this month, Lorenzana also said they intend to “control” the number of arriving Filipinos from 1,200 to 2,000 daily. He said they want to prevent a repeat of the incident when thousands of OFWs were stuck in quarantine centers in Manila for more than two weeks while waiting for their test results.
Lorenzana also informed the President that the Department of the Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs are closely coordinating to help OFWs who want to be repatriated. He said a one-stop shop has been established at the Manila airport to assist returning OFWs.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III recently said that of the 300,000 OFWs affected by the coronavirus crisis, around 95,00 have asked for repatriation while the rest preferred to stay in their host countries.
Bello also clarified that of the 42,000 OFWs set to return to the country this month, only 16,679 can be repatriated after getting their respective travel clearances.