THE House committee on public accounts, chaired by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, wants concerned government agencies to explain further the delay in the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Defensor will again convene the committee today to get updates from concerned officials on their commitment to bring home more workers.
Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, thousands of OFWs were stranded abroad since the lockdown in March, almost all of them lost their jobs.
“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,” he said.
Defensor noted official reports last week that about 70,000 OFWs have been repatriated.
Some 90,000 are still stuck abroad and are awaiting commercial or charter plans to bring them home.
He recalled that when labor and foreign affairs officials promised to repatriate more workers two weeks ago during his committee’s first hearing, they said that 167,000 OFWs were stranded, including 88,000 in Saudi Arabia.
The officials blamed their failure to bring home more workers on the daily limit set by the inter-agency task force (IATF) on COVID-19 on the number of OFWs to be repatriated.
“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,” Defensor 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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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.