House panel to resume inquiry on stranded OFWs’ repatriarion

THE House committee on public accounts will resume this Tuesday its inquiry into the repatriation of tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been stranded abroad since the lockdown in March.

Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, the panel chairman, said his panel would like to get updates from concerned officials on their commitment to bring home more workers.

“We would like to know how many OFWs have so far been repatriated, how many are still stranded and where, when are they flying home, what assistance our workers are receiving, and what are the agencies’ plans for them once they finally get home,” said Defensor.

Defensor noted official pronouncements last week that about 70,000 OFWs have repatriated.

“That means that some 90,000 are still stuck abroad and are awaiting for their commercial flights or for charter plans to fly them home,” said Defensor.

He recalled that when labor and foreign affairs officials promised to repatriate more workers two weeks ago during his committee’s first hearing, they revealed that 167,000 OFWs were stranded, including 88,000 in Saudi Arabia.

The officials blamed their failure to bring in more workers on the daily limit set by the inter-agency task force (IATF) on Covid-19 response of 1,000 overseas Filipinos who could return on their own or be returned to the country by the government.

“They committed to bring this problem to the attention of IATF and to arrange for more repatriation flights. Since the IATF has relaxed travel restrictions, it should allow more inbound planes - whether commercial or charter - bringing in stranded OFWs,” he said.

Those to be flown home include more than 300 who have died in Saudi Arabia. So far, the remains of several workers have arrived in the country.

“We should bring our modern-day heroes home - both the living and the dead - as soon as possible to be reunited with their families,” Defensor said.

He said his committee has been told that at least 16,000 of stranded OFWs already had their plane tickets and exit permits from their employers and host countries.

“They bought tickets on commercial flights on their own or with help from relatives and friends here and abroad. They have been waiting for the go-signal to board their flights from the government, principally the IATF, due to the latter’s limitation on the number of workers who could fly in,” he said.

He pointed out that once such go-signal is given, the 16,000 workers would be home in days “at no cost to the government.”

Of the 16,000, 8,000 are in Saudi Arabia, up to 4,000 in the United Arab Emirates and another 4,000 in Qatar.

Defensor said it is the consensus of members and officials of the House led by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to appeal to the IATF and CAAP to lift restrictions on repatriation flights and to arrange for additional transportation for the stranded OFWs.