Stringent rules hamper OFW repatriation efforts

Stringent and at times discriminatory regulations imposed by local government units in treating returning constituents have provided a major setback in the national government’s efforts to repatriate stranded and displaced overseas Filipino workers.

This complaint aired by officials of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration prompted the House Committee on Overseas Filipinos to call local executives to a virtual meeting that would attempt to resolve the issue.

OWWA officials disclosed that a number of LGUs have barred returning constituents despite the fact that they have tested negative for COVID-19.

National government agencies such as OWWA have claimed helplessness in reasoning out with LGU executives as the latter insist that they they have the authority to protect their localities from COVID-19 threat and are protected by the local autonomy provisions of the law.

Many LGUs are reportedly overcautious in granting clearances for the return of OFWs who are actually their constituents.

TUCP party-list Rep. Democrito Mendoza, chairman of the House Committee on Overseas Filipino Welfare, advised officials to seek President Duterte’s intercession on behalf of returning OFWs.

“We have to get around that problem.  If the President can just speak to the political leadership of local government units, I think this will be resolved,” said Mendoza, who presided over a virtual meeting on the repatriation operations for the thousands of displaced and stranded OFWs.

In the meantime, Mendoza said the committee will attempt to resolve the controversy by inviting LGU executives to a virtual meeting.

Invitations will be sent to the heads of Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines and the League of Provinces of the Philippines. Presidents of  League of Cities of the Philippines and League of Municipalities of the Philippines may also be asked to participate in the meeting.

Both the Department of Foreign Affairs and OWWA gave positive reports about the bid to repatriate OFWs from various parts of the world, especially those from the Middle East.

DFA Underscretary Sarah Lou Arriola said the processing of the return of 50,000 OFWs is expected this month.

On the other hand, Director Alice Visperas of the International Labor Affairs Bureau  revealed that the total number of displaced Filipinos abroad has reached 341,701.

At least 70,533 have been repatriated while 21,107 are ready to go home.

There are at least 169,000 OFWs who are displaced temporarily or permanently who have not yet signified any intention to go home.

Of the number of OFWs abroad, at least 5,353 have tested positive for COVID-19, said Visperas.