By Roy Mabasa
The Philippine government is now making arrangements for a cargo flight that will bring home the remains of more than 200 Filipinos who died in Saudi Arabia, including the 50 COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) related deaths, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Monday.
“How fast will we do that? We need a flight to get there. We’re getting a cargo flight even as we speak,” Locsin said during an interview at ANC’s Headstart program. He, however, did not provide the exact date as to when the remains will be flown back to the country.
Locsin said the details of the repatriation of the remains were earlier discussed with Saudi Ambassador to Manila Abdullah Bussairy who assured him that all the bodies are intact and the Saudis are ready to help to bring them home.
“I met with the Saudi ambassador, there was a fear going around that they will dispose of the bodies and he said, ‘we don’t do that. We’re a Muslim country. We do not cremate,” the DFA secretary said.
According to Locsin, the bodies will undergo COVID-19 protocols to be managed by the Department of Health and will be cremated here in the Philippines and not in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m afraid they’ll be cremated. The DOH will be handling that and the cremation will take place. I understand if they were cremated it will be much easier. The kingdom does not believe in that practice, they’re very strict. They accord the remains of the deceased an extraordinary degree of respect regardless of religion,” he said.
Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they received a communication from no less than King Salman of Saudi Arabia giving the Philippines a 72-hour window to bring home the more than 200 remains of Filipinos, mostly OFWs who died in the Kingdom for various reasons.
The Philippine government is facing challenges in repatriating hundreds of Filipinos abroad affected by the pandemic not just because of the existing travel restrictions in effect worldwide but due to the congestion that it creates in quarantine centers in Manila.
“The challenge in the repatriation of OFWs is this: my order is to bring them home as fast as possible. At the same time, there’s the other side: the reception here. I’ve been told we’re bringing in so many so fast,” Locsin said.