MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto said on Monday, June 22, that over 200 Filipinos whose remains will be repatriated to the Philippines died due to “natural causes.”
Alonto gave the update following concern over the high number of deaths among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Gulf state. The deaths had gone unreported until Saudi officials recently asked the Philippine government to bring home the workers’ bodies.
Alonto said the number of deaths has reached 353, with 246 due to natural causes and 107 due to the coronavirus. It is still unclear when they died.
“[They died of] natural causes mostly. There were only a few deaths related to controversy. There were a few crime-related deaths, but most of the non-COVID-related deaths are [due to] natural causes,” Alonto said in a mix of English and Filipino during a Laging Handa briefing on Monday.
The Philippine government earlier said bodies of Filipinos who died due to COVID-19 will be buried in Saudi Arabia.
Based on the Saudi government’s rules, Alonto said, bodies of coronavirus patients who died must be handled within 72 hours from the time the embassy is informed since morgues are at full capacity.
But the ambassador said the embassy had difficulty repatriating the remains of Filipinos right away as flights were limited during Saudi Arabia’s lockdown.
Under normal circumstances, not more than 3 bodies are allowed on flights home, according to Alonto.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Monday said the Philippine government is arranging for a special cargo flight to bring home the OFWs’ bodies, possibly this week.
Health care for OFWs
Alonto also addressed Filipino workers’ concerns that they are unable to access health care in Saudi Arabia.
The ambassador said Saudi health and foreign affairs officials assured him there is no triaging in hospitals and clinics based on race.
“I am taking the word of our host government that there is no discrimination. What’s happening is the facilities are really full,” Alonto said, adding that the embassies of India and Bangladesh also reported the same experience.
Alonto added the embassy was given a list of clinics Filipinos could go to for treatment. The clinics, he said, were contracted to serve as additional medical facilities to treat all infected patients “irrespective of nationality.”
Saudi Arabia is among the countries where OFWs are hardest hit by the coronavirus, as it remained the top destination for Filipino workers in 2019. The Middle East and Africa region has also reported the highest number of cases and deaths among Filipinos overseas.
Alonto said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and embassy’s operations remain limited after 16 POLO officials were infected with COVID-19, prompting other Filipino officials to undergo quarantine. The embassy, he added, will conduct a second wave of testing next week.
Over 800,000 Filipinos are estimated to be in Saudi Arabia. – Rappler.com