By Martin Sadongdong
Around 56,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have been flown back home, Defense Secretary and National Action Plan (NAP) on COVID-19 Chairman Delfin Lorenzana bared on Monday night.
In President Duterte’s public address, Lorenzana reiterated that the government is prepared for the arrival of 40,000 more OFWs in the next two months.
On Monday alone, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) welcomed 667 OFWs from Barbados and United Arab Emirates (UAE) who arrived on two separate flights at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.
Later that night, 280 more overseas Filipinos were also brought back on Monday night by the Philippine embassy in Tripoli from Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia in its first repatriation mission in North Africa.
Lorenzana said there were also a handful of OFWs in Indonesia who want to go back to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Lorenzana said one of the biggest challenges for the government right now is to bring home the bodies of at least 282 OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) who died due to COVID-19 and other causes.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, in a radio interview over ABS-CBN teleradyo on Sunday, said he would appeal to extend the 72-hour deadline given by the government of KSA to bring home the cadavers.
Of the 282, 50 individuals succumbed to COVID-19 while the others perished due to other resons, according to DFA.
Lorenzana said he already talked to Bello and they agreed that the DOLE will book three chartered flights from the Philippine Air Lines (PAL) or Cebu Pacific to carry the dead back to the Philippines.
The NAP Chairman also aired his frustation with the influx of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) who have no confirmed flight details yet.
The Philippine Army has used its facilities to accommodate nearly 400 LSIs who were left with no option but to stay under the Sales Bridge and on the streets near NAIA while awaiting for their flights back to their home provinces.
He said the problem is that the NTF is hard-pressed in getting vehicles to transport them because no agency would pay for their fares. “We are now using our Air Force planes and Philippine Navy ships),” Lorenzana said.
On Monday, Philippine Navy’s strategic sealift vessel BRP Davao del Sur (LD602) ferried 402 LSIs and three repatriates to port of Iloilo.
He appealed to the locally stranded individuals to refrain from going to the airport if they have no confirmed flights yet.
Colonel Ramon Zagala, Army spokesperson, said the Army facilities catering to LSIs would soon reach its maximum capacity as more individuals were being accommodated than those being released with confirmed flights.