As more overseas Filipino workers return home amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go urged the Department of Labor and Employment to immediately implement its action plan to bring home to their respective hometowns thousands of OFWs who have been stranded in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.
In an online interview on Monday, May 25, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that his department is already on top of the situation, ready to send off more than 24,000 OFWs to their respective provinces after testing negative for the virus.
“Hindi naman paabutin pa ng isang linggo. Sa loob ng tatlong araw, pipilitin namin na ang 24,000 na kababayan nating naghihirap na sa quarantine facility, papauwiin na namin by air, by land, at by sea,” Bello III said.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a one-week deadline for agencies, such as DOLE, Department of Health, and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to let more than 24,000 OFWs stranded in quarantine facilities go home to their provinces after fulfilling the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine period and going through other health protocols.
“Suportado ko po ang action plan ni Secretary Bello III na pauwiin na ang ating mga OFWs na stranded sa quarantine facilities. May one week po sila para tapusin ito pero sana kayanin nilang gawin within three days,” Go said.
“Marami na po talagang mga kababayan natin ang tinapos ang 14-day quarantine period at nag-test na ng negative sa COVID-19. Kaya dapat mapauwi na sila. Matagal na rin po sila nawalay sa kanilang mga pamilya,” Go added.
Secretary Bello III said that starting Monday, May 25, they will be sending eight thousand OFWs per day to their homes, adding that the Philippine Coast Guard and OWWA will fetch them at their quarantine hotels where they will be brought either to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal II or Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange to embark to their respective final destinations.
Furthermore, Secretary Bello III said they have already made arrangements with Department of Interior and Local Government and other local executives to ensure that local government units will receive the returning OFWs.
“Nakipag-coordinate na po kami kay Secretary Año ng DILG at mga local executives. Tiyakin natin na makakauwi na sila. Sabi nga ng ating Pangulo ay kailangan siguraduhin ninyo ang kalusugan at kalagayan ng ating mga OFWs,” Bello III said.
Senator Go said that he is pleased to know that LGUs have been informed regarding the proper acceptance of returning OFWs who have tested negative and completed the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine period.
“Mabuti po na nakipag-coordinate na ang DOLE at iba pang mga ahensya sa mga local executives sa pagtanggap ng ating mga OFWs. Recently, ang dami kasi naming natatanggap na mga reports na ang ating mga kababayan ay tinatanggihan ng kanilang sariling LGUs. Hindi dapat ganoon,” Go said.
“’Yung ating mga OFWs dapat welcome ang feeling nila sa pag-uwi sa sariling bayan,” Go added, saying that they should always be welcome and taken care of here.
“Ang stand po ng ating Pangulo ay tanggapin niya ang mga Pilipino na gustong umuwi dahil kung pati sa sariling bansa nila ay ayaw sila tanggapin, saan pa sila pupunta?,” Go also cited.
As the proponent of Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Program, Senator Go said that this initiative mirrors the immediate phase of the BP2 program which prioritizes Filipinos affected by the COVID-19 pandemic so that they can return to their home provinces, adding that the government must immediately help stranded individuals in Metro Manila and other urban centers to safeguard their well-being.
Other component initiatives, such as Hatid Estudyante Para Makabalik sa Probinsya of the Department of Transportation and Seafarers Uwi Pamilya programs of the Maritime Industry Authority have also assisted stranded Filipinos during the health crisis.
“During this time of crisis, uunahin natin ‘yung gusto at kailangan nang umuwi sa kanilang mga probinsya after observing strict health protocols. I am reminding the government to always keep an eye on our people’s welfare,” Go said.
Senator Go also took the opportunity to reiterate his call for the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW), citing that its establishment would cater to the pressing needs of overseas and repatriated Filipinos, especially in times of crisis.
“’Yung concerns ng ating mga OFWs tulad nito ay maha-handle ng mas maayos kung meron tayong isang empowered department solely focused to address all the needs of overseas Filipinos,” Go said.
As the author of Senate Bill 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019, Senator Go aims to streamline all government efforts for Filipinos abroad by putting government agencies dealing with their concerns under one umbrella.
“May pandemya man o wala, I am certain that a dedicated department for overseas Filipinos concerns will make government efforts more efficient and responsive to their needs. Sa dami po nila, they deserve our utmost attention” Go said, adding that more than ten percent of the country’s population are overseas.
To ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of response to OFW concerns, the bill proposes that the following agencies and their powers and functions, funds and appropriations, records, equipment, property, and personnel be transferred to the new department to be established: OWWA, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Commission on Filipino Overseas, International Labor Affairs Bureau of DOLE and National Reintegration Center for OFWs.
The bill also states that the powers and functions of the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs under the Department of Foreign Affairs and all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and their officials under DOLE will also be transferred to the new department.
“Nakita po natin ang mga pagsubok na pinagdaraanan ng ating mga OFWs dahil sa COVID-19. Napapanahon na talaga para magtatag tayo ng departamento upang mas maprotektahan ang kanilang kapakanan,” Go said.
“Masakit makitang iniiwan nila ang kanilang pamilya upang magtrabaho lang sa mga malalayong bansa. Minsan, nababasa mo na lang sa Facebook ang kanilang paghingi ng saklolo. Suklian natin ang kanilang mga sakripisyo ng mas maayos at mabilis na serbisyo,” he added.
Stay updated with news and information from the Office of Senator Bong Go by visiting their website at http://kuyabonggo.ph.