More repatriation flights for OFWs proposed

Mike Defensor
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Rep. Mike Defensor

THE chairman of the House committee on public accounts on Wednesday renewed his appeal for the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) response and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to allow more repatriation flights for stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Rep. Mike Defensor, the panel chairman, reminded CAAP, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) that they would work together to bring in more Filipino workers who have been stuck in their host countries since the coronavirus outbreak more than three months ago.

“They committed to bring this problem to the attention of IATF and to arrange for more repatriation flights. That was two weeks ago and we have not heard from them. Since the IATF has relaxed travel restrictions, it should allow more inbound planes - whether commercial or charter - bringing in stranded OFWs,” said Defensor.

Defensor estimated that at least 100,000 more are stranded abroad, including 88,000 in Saudi Arabia.

The DoLE and DFA told the Defensor committee two weeks ago that 167,000 OFWs were awaiting repatriation. However, the DoLE has reported that more than 60,000 workers have already been repatriated.

The two departments and CAAP informed the panel that the IATF-set repatriation cap of 1,000 workers a day was delaying the return of stranded OFWs.

Those to be flown home include more than 300 who have died in Saudi Arabia.

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

He said at least 16,000 of stranded OFWs already have 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.

Defensor 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.

The House leader 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.

“We should attend to them once they are here. Eventually, the government will have to provide them with employment and other income-generating opportunities,” said Defensor.