House panel to prove delayed return of OFWs

IN line with a House leadership directive, the House committee on public accounts will be conducting hearing on the issues concerning repatriation of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Chaired by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, the committee wanted to determine the reasons why the repatriation of the stranded OFWs were delayed and created several problems.

The public hearing will be on Friday, June 26, Defensor announced.

“Consistent with the directive of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in the case of the social amelioration program, we want to look into the problems plaguing the repatriation of our workers overseas, who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and find solutions,” Defensor said

He said the House wants to gather all the concerned officials so that issues related to the return of displaced and distressed OFWs could be immediately addressed.

“We want the living as well as the dead repatriated as soon as possible. They have been stranded abroad for months,” Defensor added.

Among those invited to Friday’s hearing are officials of the Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the inter-agency task force against COVID-19, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Transportation, some ambassadors assigned to the Middle East, and OFW representatives.

Meanwhile, Defensor encouraged stranded OFWs to communicate their concerns and questions to his committee through the Facebook pages of the House and his party-list group Anakalusugan between today and Friday, and even after the hearing.

He said House leaders are puzzled why it is taking the concerned agencies so long to fly home stranded OFWs.

“We have thousands of them in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and Europe who have been waiting to return home since the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

“What are the agencies’ problems in trying to get them home? Are there no planes that can be chartered to fly them? Are there no government planes or ships that could be used? Are there sufficient repatriation and related funds? These are some of the questions we want answered,” the House leader added.

According to Defensor, among those who should be transported home immediately are hundreds of Filipinos who have died in Saudi Arabia.

“The agencies cannot even agree on the number of fatalities. The labor department reported that there are about 280, while our embassy in Saudi Arabia claimed in a television report that there are more than 350, 100 of whom have died due to COVID-19,” he said.

He pointed out that many OFWs have been repatriated, “hundreds of them have become stranded in their own country, and have been forced to sleep at the airport or in areas near the airport while waiting for flights to their provinces in Mindanao.”

The hearing will be a hybrid session. It will be conducted at the House session hall with some of the invited officials and lawmakers joining via teleconference. It will be streamed live on the House Facebook page.