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Bello: Gov’t ready for more returning OFWs

THE government is ready to serve more returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the pandemic.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said DOLE’s assistance programs and other measures to aid the beleaguered migrant workers are in place the moment they arrive in the country.

Bello made the statement as he welcomed the assurance of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to allow more airlines to fly for OFW repatriation.

CAAP has been strictly regulating flights in the country to help control the spread of the deadly coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19).

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.

In a congressional hearing on Friday, CAAP Director General Jim Sydiongco said the agency is willing to increase the number of flights to bring home more OFWs.

“Our permit to fly is actually based on requests and not on restrictions. So if government agencies request more flights to help our displaced workers abroad, we allow them,” Sydiongco said.

Bello said the clarification from CAAP is good news for the repatriation efforts led by the labor department to aid thousands of crisis-hit migrant workers around the globe.

“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,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bello on Sunday said he is hoping to fly home the remains of 301 dead OFWs before the 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 an interview.

DOLE earlier reported that preparations are underway to bring home the dead OFWs, including the 152 who died of Covid 19. 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 Department of Health is expected to issue early this week the protocols to be observed in the handling, reception and domestic transport of the remains.

Upon arrival, Bello said the bodies of those who died from Covid will be brought directly to the crematoriums identified by their respective families or local government units.