For OFWs, going home amid pandemic is a very long journey

Published September 13, 2020, 8:30 AM

by Dhel Nazario

•    What OFWs face when they go home amid pandemic
•    Being ready to wait in line, get a swab test, and wait again
•    Getting free food, free lodging, free Internet access

There is no place like home. That’s what the airport terminals around the world have shown soon after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic broke out and thousands of anxious passengers scrambled to take the first flight back to their families.

The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were among the crowds. Hailed as the modern day heroes for their pursuit to give their families better lives, many of them opted to leave their jobs and risk their safety just to go home even if the journey at the midst of the pandemic would be a trail of obstacles.

Hannah’s story
One of the earliest to go home was Hannah Ayaca, 28, who was working as a travel consultant for more than a year in Dubai. Being seven months pregnant did not discourage her from the long journey which would entail many hours of waiting.

 Just like on vacation – Hannah Ayaca, a seven-month pregnant Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) spent her three-day quarantine at a hotel in Ortigas Center.  She told Manila Bulletin that it was like a vacation for her. 

Since there were no commercial flights operating by then, she booked a seat in a chartered flight costing about P44,000 which was about a month’s income for her.

The emergency expense depleted the savings which she and her husband had for her pregnancy. Her husband opted to stay behind in Dubai to earn for the family.

Fortunately, Hannah said she received a P10,000 cash assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that she had applied for online in April.

After getting her ticket, Hannah secured a medical clearance from her doctor and prepared the necessary documents for her departure. Because of her condition, Hannah was given priority at the airport and was not made to queue.

She noted that social distancing was observed at the Dubai International Airport but in the plane, there were no empty seats between passengers. Because of that, she said she ate even with her face shield on.

After the nine-hour flight Hannah said that they landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Before deplaning, the Department of Health (DOH) personnel boarded the plane to take each passenger’s body temperature and collect the Health Declaration forms.

Then they were escorted by Philippine Coast Guard personnel to a place where they had to attend an orientation on the procedures that all passengers will go through at the airport and at the hotel where they will be quarantined for 14 days.

Quarantine food – This is what breakfast looks like for someone on quarantine in one of the isolation facilities. It’s complete with meat, rice, cereal, fruits and orange juice.

After the orientation, she and other pregnant women were prioritized for a swab test.

Meanwhile, personnel of the Oversees Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) distributed food packs.

There was a waiting bus provided by OWWA which brought them to their designated hotels.  Hanah was assigned to a hotel in the Ortigas Commercial Center. There, they were greeted by health personnel who gave them instructions before they were allowed to go to their rooms. Pregnant women had rooms for themselves while others were assigned two to a room.

Free food, comfortable room
Hannah said they were given free food daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Her air-conditioned room was very comfortable, with its own bathroom with toiletries, television set, internet connection, refrigerator, microwave, and a gallon of water. She also brought food from Dubai — bananas, apples, pork adobo prepared by her husband, packs of biscuits, loaf of bread, and different varieties of sandwich spread.

With the free food provided by OWWA and the food she took with her, Hannah said she did not spend a centavo when she arrived in the country until she was allowed to go home.

Quarantine food – This is what lunch looks like for someone on quarantine under one of the government’s isolation facilities.

On the third day of the quarantine, Hannah received the result of her swab test and she was allowed to go home.

She said that it was relaxing at the hotel and she wished she could stay longer but she wanted to be with  her family and to her firstborn who was eagerly waiting for her.

Camille’s story
Another OFW, Camille-Jazul Salita, 28, who worked in Doha, Qatar, as a beauty adviser, resigned from her job just to be with her family again. She had planned to stay there for three years if not for the pandemic.


She was lucky though because her company shouldered the cost of the ticket to go home. 

“Actually takot akong mag close ang airport, kasi gusto ko makauwi agad. My manager told me na it will not close and that everything will be fine so no need to resign, but at times like these gusto mo lang makasama family mo eh (I was actually afraid that the airport might close and I wanted to go home soon. My manager told me that the airport will remain open and that everything will be fine so there was no need to resign, but at times like these, you just want to be with your family),” she said.

Camille left Doha at 2 a.m. on May 2 and arrived in Manila on the same day, past 4 p.m.

She said that there were two lines at the Manila airport – for OFWs and non-OFWs.

Non-OFWs were quarantined at their own expense at a hotel they chose from a list of hotels accredited by the OWWA. The cheapest hotels cost from P550 to P1,300 a night, excluding meals.

Others chose to stay at the quarantine facilities of the government which is free.

But before leaving the airport for the hotel, Camille said each arriving passenger went through a rapid test. Then they were given dinner provided by OWWA.

22-day quarantine
Camille was one of the OFWs who was brought by the bus provided by OWWA to a hotel in Cubao where she was quarantined for 22 days because she only had her swab test on the 15th day.

A person of authority briefed the OFWs on safety measures and some do’s and don’ts.

The hotel experience was a different case for Camille. Her room was air-conditioned, had a television set, and a private bathroom. But there was no window which days later caused some discomfort to Camille.  She said she did not know if it was morning or night because there was no window.

Her food was left on a chair outside the room.

“Good food pinapakain samin, complete meal with fruits. They deliver coffee din, and if you want to buy something outside, you can just ask the OWWA staff assigned there,” Camille said.

She also ordered some food online and charged the cost to her card.  She recalled that she did not even touch the P200 cash that was with her.

Swab test only on the 15th day
After the swab test on her 15th day, Camille said she was starting to feel sad and depressed since many of the OFWs who arrived with her got their results a day later or after three days. So they all went home.

Room without a window
And the fact that her room had no window was causing her anxiety.

“You know okay lang sana kung may bintana ang hotel. Kaso wala, so parang nakaka-suffocate siya (It would have been fine if the hotel had windows but there were none, and it felt somewhat suffocating),” she said.

A week after the swab test, Camille called the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) at 5 a.m. to ask for her results. She was crying when she made the call, which she later said may have been the reason why at 8 that same morning, the result of her test was emailed to her.

But she could not leave the hotel because the bus had to be full of passengers before it could make a trip out of the area. Camille was finally able to leave when she called a relative to fetch her.

“Ang sarap sa feeling nung finally nakalabas ako at nasikatan ng araw (It felt great when I got out and saw the sun),”she recalled.

When Manila Bulletin interviewed the two, Camille said she has no plans to go back for now.  Hannah, though, plans to return to Dubai by November, when her maternity leave ends and she would have recovered after giving birth to her second child.

But no one regrets going through the inconveniences just to go home.