By Leslie Ann G. Aquino
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is hoping to fly home the remains of 301 dead overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) before the July 4 deadline set by the Saudi government for their repatriation.
“We were given a deadline of July 4, so we hope to bring them back before that deadline,” he said in a statement Sunday.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier reported that preparations are underway to bring home the dead OFWs, including 152 persons who died of COVID 19.
The Labor chief was able to secure the approval of the Inter Agency Task Force for the repatriation of the deceased OFWs including those who succumbed to Covid 19.
According to DOLE, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will charter two flights from Riyadh and Jeddah where the bodies will be transported from various regions in Saudi Arabia before they are flown back to the Philippines.
The Labor department said the Department of Health is expected to issue the protocols to be observed in the handling, reception and domestic transport of the remains.
Upon arrival in the country, Bello said, the bodies of COVID-19 victims will be transported with the help of the Department of National Defense directly to the crematoriums of choice of the family or local government units.
The remains of those who died of natural or other causes, on the other hand, will be allowed to be fetched at the airport by their respective families.
Meanwhile, Bello said the government is ready to serve more returning OFWs displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He welcomed the assurance of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to allow more airlines to fly for OFW repatriation.
“With CAAP’s permission, we can now bring home more OFWs so they can find refuge in their own country and be reunited with their families,” Bello said.
He told CAAP not to worry about the arrival of more OFWs because DOLE is more than ready to accommodate them.
“We now have systems to locate and track OFWs so that while they signify their intention of flying home, preparations for them are already being made such as testing, hotel accommodation, and transport service to their places of origin,” Bello said.
The labor chief was referring to the OFW Assistance Information System (OASIS) of DOLE developed to locate migrant workers and help government prepare the needs of returning OFWs.
“What’s important is the readiness of the government to provide prompt and appropriate service for our OFWs,” said Bello.
CAAP has been strictly regulating flights in the country to help control the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The restriction however has prevented government to maximize its initiatives to fetch migrant workers who want to return home after losing their jobs because of the outbreak.