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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, May 25, ordered concerned government agencies to ensure all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stuck quarantine in Metro Manila were brought back to their home provinces by the end of the week.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte gave the directive to officials from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Department of Health (DOH) earlier this morning as some 24,000 OFWs remained in limbo due to delayed test results and processing of certificates.
“Inatasan po kaninang umaga ng 1:30 am ang ating Presidente ang mga autoridad gaya po ng DOLE, OWWA, at DOH na siguraduhin makakauwi na ang 24,000 OFWs na sa ngayon po ay nag-aantay ng kanilang resulta sa PCR swab,” Roque said during a Laging Handa briefing on Monday.
Roque added Duterte authorized all officials in these government agencies to “use all government resources”, including those of the military, to facilitate the transport of OFWs to their hometowns. He said Luzon residents would be ferried by buses, while Visayas and Mindanao residents would return home through flights and boat rides.
“Sabi po ng Presidente kung hindi sapat ang mga pribadong bus, eroplano, at barko, pwede pong gamiting ang mga eroplano at barko ng hukbong sandatahan,” Roque said.
(The President said if private buses, airplanes, and ships were not enough, they could use the military’s airplanes and ships.)
In a separate DZMM interview, Roque said the President mentioned one week was enough to bring all OFWs home, “otherwise, marami pong mananagot (many will have to answer for it.)”
What’s happening with OFWs? Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, over 28,000 OFWs were displaced or have decided to return to the Philippines. Once back home, government directives meant each had to undergo testing and quarantine to avoid importing the coronavirus into the country.
Delays in the release of test results, however, have caused OFWs to remain in quarantine for far longer than 14 days. Some workers yet to receive their results reported being stranded in Metro Manila for over a month now. (WATCH: OFWs in prolonged quarantine because of delayed COVID-19 test results)
Aside from this, backlogs were also seen in the release of quarantine certificates that would ensure OFWs completed health protocols and were not infected with the coronavirus.
National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr had earlier said the delays were posing a “problem“ for the government, adding quarantine facilities could be overwhelmed with even more arrivals in the coming months.
In a televised address on Monday night, Duterte again hit local government units (LGUs) for refusing to let OFWs return to their home provinces. He ordered local officials to accept returning Filipinos and to follow the national government’s restrictions on the movement of people.
“One, in the name of humanity. Two, it’s the constitutional right and ito ‘yung pinakamabigat. It is the constitutional right of people to go home – to travel and go home,” Duterte said.
“Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally…. It is the national government who declared there is a national emergency involving a pandemic, an issue of health – that power cannot be shared by anybody else,” he added.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año assured local officials all 24,000 OFWs scheduled to return home tested negative for the coronavirus after swabs were taken for PCR tests.
In case any of the OFWs did not have their results or arrived in their respective LGUs without proper documentation, Año advised local officials to still accept them and place them under quarantine until their results were received.
New measures: Instead of waiting for quarantine certificates to be released, Roque said the OWWA would ensure all OFWs had a copy of their results and certificates before boarding buses, airplanes, or ships that would take them home.
On Monday, DOLE also committed to bringing home all 24,000 OFWs who tested negative and were waiting for copies of their results and certificates in about 3 days.
“Upon instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte, a composite team of Philippine Coast Guard and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will arrange in the next 3 days for daily trips for 8,000 OFWs a day via the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) and the NAIA Terminal,” DOLE said.
The teams will oversee the documentation of cleared OFWs, DOLE said, while a “one-stop shop” will be set up in PITX and NAIA to ensure necessary arrangements.
Moving forward, Roque said OFWs would be tested and undergo quarantine in their respective provinces after arriving. This would be done to decongest quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and facilitate the transport of workers to their home provinces earlier. – Rappler.com