After speaking with an overseas Filipino worker in distress in Saudi Arabia in a recent phone patch interview, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has called once again on the government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, to intensify support for affected OFWs, especially those who are seeking to return home amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“May nakausap akong isang kababayan natin sa Saudi Arabia. Nahihirapan siya at mga kapwa niyang OFWs na umuwi dahil wala silang assistance na nakukuha sa kanilang mga employer. Nahihirapan din silang mag-contact sa ating embahada,” Go said.
In a phone patch interview with Raffy Tulfo, Senator Go spoke with Noly Garcia, a bus driver working in a bus company in Riyadh, who said that he and other fellow Filipino workers need assistance to return to the Philippines in the middle of the global health crisis. Garcia said that they could not get assistance from their employer. They were also asked to file a complaint so that the embassy can act on their concern.
“Ang gusto po namin sana, gusto na po namin makauwi, sir, ilan kami dito na Pilipino… Wala naman nag-aassist sa amin,” Garcia said in the phone patch, saying that they have been fearing for their lives as some of their companions have either succumbed to the deadly disease or have been experiencing some of its symptoms.
According to the DFA, 24,422 overseas Filipino workers have been repatriated as of May 2. The Maritime Industry Authority is also bringing home stranded seafarers and their families in Metro Manila back to their provinces through its Seafarers Uwi Pamilya program. According to Philippine Coast Guard commandant Admiral Joel Garcia, up to 18,000 OFWs were stranded in Metro Manila as of last week as their hometowns were not yet ready to accept them, amidst the viral threat and delays in testing.
“Dapat po talaga mabigyan ng pansin ang ating mga OFWs, lalo na sa ganitong panahon. Sila ang nagsisikap sa labas (ng bansa) pero marami sa kanila hindi maramdaman ang welcome sa kanilang sariling bansa,” Go said.
“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 cited previously.
Senator Go stressed that the cooperation of all agencies concerning OFWs is needed at this crucial time, adding that their processes must be streamlined in order to bring faster and more efficient services.
The Senator also took the opportunity to emphasize that a dedicated executive department that focuses on the affairs of OFWs would greatly help Filipino workers abroad.
“Katulad ngayon, madaming dinadaanan pang iba’t ibang ahensya bago makaresponde ang gobyerno sa mga OFWs na humihingi ng saklolo. Iba-iba ang concern, iba-iba ang kailangang lapitan pa mula DFA, OWWA, MARINA, at iba pa,” Go said.
“Kung meron tayong departamentong talagang nakatutok sa kanila, magiging mas maayos ang pagresponde sa mga krisis at mas mabilis nating matutulungan ang ating mga kababayang humihingi ng saklolo,” Go added in the phone patch.
Last July 2019, Go filed Senate Bill 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019 which aims to make government more efficient and responsive to the needs of Filipinos abroad. The bill aims to put concerned government agencies dealing with OFW concerns under one umbrella. A committee hearing has already been conducted in the Senate with Technical Working Group meetings conducted with different stakeholders. The House of Representative’s version has already been passed on third and final reading.
The creation of DOFWs is one of Go’s priority bills filed just more than a month after being elected as Senator in 2019. The proposed agency is also part of the Duterte Administration’s priority legislative agenda.
According to the bill, the proposed DOFWs will be responsible in formulating programs for protecting and promoting the welfare of Filipino workers, managing and overseeing their foreign employment, and providing assistance to nationals, especially those in distress, among others.
“Ang ating mga OFWs ay tinuturing nating mga bagong bayani. Mahirap ang mapalayo sa sariling pamilya at bansa para mabigyan ng magandang buhay ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay. Let’s give them the support they deserve as modern heroes,” Go said.
“We should make sure that all Filipinos in distress, here or abroad, are given timely assistance and that measures are also undertaken to protect their welfare, especially in times of crises,” he added.