HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Thursday said the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano would find ways, including lobbying for more flights to address the various problems besetting the repatriation of tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been displaced by the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules who authorized committee hearings during the congressional break, agreed with the Speaker’s directive for the House committee on public accounts chaired by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor to launch an inquiry this Friday afternoon on the matter.
“We empathize with the plight of thousands of stranded OFWs who are unemployed for months,” said Romualdez.
Romualdez underscored the importance of allowing more flights to carry the
safe return of distressed OFWs as soon as possible.
“Immediately, we need to have more flights to accommodate our
returning OFWs and ensure that health protocols are strictly observed
for their safe travels,” said Romualdez.
Defensor 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.
“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.
“We want the living as well as the dead repatriated as soon as possible. They have been stranded abroad for months,” he said.
Among those invited to Friday’s hearing are officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) against COVID-19, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Transportation (DOTr), some ambassadors assigned to the Middle East, and OFW representatives.
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
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 until this 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,” Defensor added.
Defensor added that 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 sight of hundreds sleeping under the NAIA tollway for days before the Army took pity on them and offered them temporary shelter them does not speak well of the agencies that should be attending to them,” Defensor stressed.
“Again, we ask, are there no Air Force planes or Navy or Coast Guard vessels that could transport our workers to their provinces in Mindanao and Visayas?,” Defensor said.