The national government finally heeded to the concerns of overseas Filipino workers stuck in quarantine facilities for two months despite them testing negative for COVID-19.
In his latest national address aired late Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government agencies to prioritize processing the documents of over 24,000 OFWs who have tested negative for COVID-19 and return home to their families within a week.
“I have instructed — [was it last night?] — through Secretary Roque that I am ordering the use of all government assets whether it’s really the air or the sea or the transportation owned by government that should be utilized in accepting and probably delivering them to their—if possible, delivering them to their homes, to their families,” Duterte said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also confirmed in a phone interview with PTV-4 last night that Duterte ordered the Department of Local and Interior Government, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Health to help these OFWs and seafarers return home.
“Ang sabi niya, ‘Hindi katanggap-tanggap na napakatagal ng proseso bago sila makauwi.’ So inaasahan natin na magkakaroon naman po ng implementasyon ang ating mga ahensya ng gobyerno,” Roque said.
Duterte also expressed disappointment over local government units which he claimed refused to accept returning OFWs out of fear of acquiring the highly communicable disease.
“Ngayon, may mga siyudad na ayaw nilang tanggapin. You know, I’m ordering you to accept them, open the gates of your territories and allow the people—and allow the Filipino to travel wherever they want,” he said.
The president stressed that it is the “constitutional right” of the OFWs to return home.
“One, in the name of humanity. Two, it’s the constitutional right and ito ‘yung pinakamabigat. It is the constitutional right of people to go home — to travel and go home. Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally,” Duterte said.
Since the beginning of May, Duterte has warned LGUs who refused entry to repatriated OFWs from countries that are also severely affected by the pandemic.
Prolonged quarantine takes toll on OFWs’ mental health
Last Friday, GMA reporter Raffy Tima shared photos showing the plight of OFWs who are not allowed to go home despite having tested negative for COVID-19.
Tima reported that one of the workers in the facility has committed suicide amid of the uncertainty of their return to their respective homes starts to take a toll on their mental health.
“Some say they too are experiencing depression. While they have free accommodation and food, the thought of not knowing when they can finally go home is taking a toll on their mental health. And being told by an official that they are ungrateful for complaining is not helping,” Tima said.
Some of the thousands of OFW’s still on quarantine after almost 2 months. Almost two weeks after finding it out they are negative, they still can’t go home because their certificates have not been printed yet.
An OFW in this facilty has already committed suicide. pic.twitter.com/wclA7vUhT3
— Raffy Tima (@raffytima) May 22, 2020
This post reached Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who also questioned the slow process of releasing their certificates.
“Where are the test? Ours in Valenzuela takes less than 48 hours to get the results and papers. No one is in-charge with the welfare of our OFWs,” Gatchalian said on Twitter.
Where are the test? Ours in Valenzuela takes less than 48 hours to get the results and papers. No one is in-charge with the welfare of our OFWs. https://t.co/r6WaCMS9SF
— Sherwin Gatchalian (@stgatchalian) May 22, 2020
Twitter account The Nerdy Derma quipped that this is how the government repays OFWs’ remittances that greatly contribute to the Philippine economy.
“Ganito kayo “pasalamatan” ng gobyerno,” the account said.
This is how the government treats OFWs, our modern heroes whose remittances significantly contribute to our economy.
OFW money accounted for 7.8% ($33.5B) of the gross national income last year.
Ganito kayo “pasalamatan” ng gobyerno. https://t.co/1qq1o5qI5A
— The Nerdy Derma (@thenerdyderma) May 23, 2020
Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde, meanwhile, observed that OFWs, majority of whom supported Duterte during his presidential bid in 2016, could be seen turning their backs to him.
“Duterte should be worried about these OFW’s because they are his main political base. Without them, he never would have been president. Already, we’re seeing more of them getting pissed at him,” Conde said.
The National Task Force for COVID-19 started prioritizing overseas workers in the government’s mass testing program on May 6.
However, after accomplishing their testing activities for the OFWs, results have been delayed for weeks.
As of May 18, around 27,000 OFWs have been stranded in hotels and cruise ships waiting for their results.
COVID-19 testing czar Vince Dizon, on the other hand, announced that as of May 23 around 8,000 test result certificates are still being processed and will be released “soon.”
When can OFWs be allowed to go home?
In the same national address, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año informed Duterte that the 24,000 OFWs Duterte mentioned have already been tested negative.
He then advised that those who are still waiting for results will still be allowed to go home if they stay in quarantine facilities in their respective communities.
“Sir, ‘yon pong order ninyo na 24,000 OFWs lahat po ‘yan ay na-test natin using PCR at lahat po ‘yan ay negative,” Año said.
“Kung sakali lang po na may makakalusot na nawala ‘yung kanyang result at siya ay dumating sa LGU ng walang papeles, ang advice po natin sa LGU tanggapin ninyo at ilagay ninyo sa quarantine hanggang dumating ‘yung kanyang result. Sapagkat ‘yon pong 24,000 po ‘yan ay tested negative po sa PCR,” he added.
Duterte agreed to this and ordered LGUs to provide “sequestration houses” to OFWs who are still waiting for their test results.
He also allowed the government funds allotted to the COVID-19 pandemic response to be used in helping OFWs’ return to the provinces.
“Tanggapin ninyo and provide for sequestration houses if you want. Iyong doon sila i-quarantine pero hati-hati tayo sa problema tutal hindi naman kami nagkulang. Whatever you need, we provide,” Duterte said.