MANILA, June 27 — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Friday said that repatriation of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is not assured by funding alone as several equally important factors has to be considered.
“In repatriating our OFWs, we also have to consider the lockdowns imposed by countries where they are working,” Bello said during a hybrid public hearing of the House Public Accounts Committee chaired by Rep. Mike Defensor.
He said the ‘lock-ins’ and ‘lock-outs’ in infected nations are still major stumbling blocks in the process even if the Philippines opens its doors to migrant workers amid its own restrictions to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
According to Bello, legal impediments tied to the exit visas, loans and cases of OFWs who want to go home are also to be considered.
“It really gets frustrating when foreign employers refuse to give the exit visas of our OFWs to stop them from returning to the Philippines. There are many employers like that abroad,” he said.
“Repatriation of OFWs also becomes difficult to achieve when they still have loans to settle and complaints to face,” Bello added.
Bello joined other Labor officials in the six-hour hearing to clarify issues on the challenges experienced by OFWs affected by the pandemic.
In his manifestation, House Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Ray ‘LRay’ Villafuerte pushed for more funds to boost government efforts to bring home the trouble migrant workers.
“Can we repatriate all our OFWs if we use more funds?” Villafuerte asked Bello. The Labor Secretary replied ‘no’ but explained bigger funds can boost the whole-lot-of-government approach to save OFWs from their misery.
The best solution to the problem of our beloved OFWs, Bello said, is still the tight coordinated efforts of all concerned government agencies and private sector.
The House Committee on Public Accounts chaired by Rep. Michael Defensor convened on Friday for a briefing on the whole of government approach on its migration policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic in view of the rapidly growing number of distressed and displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
In his opening statement, Speaker Alan Peter “Compañero” Cayetano called on the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and other government agencies to unite in creating an integrated and unified approach in assisting OFWs. The Speaker said it is important the executive agencies are “integrated at nag-uusap.” He noted that the main issues needing most urgent attention are relief, repatriation, recovery, return, and reintegration.
Meanwhile, the committee got assurance from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines that it will prioritize flights of repatriating Filipinos over commercial flights. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola welcomed the development as it will allow the DFA to bring home up to 14,000 OFWs per week. This is more than double the 6,000 OFWs per week it was previously able to repatriate when their chartered flights were given clearance only three days a week.
Other resource persons who joined the hearing were Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Philippine Ambassador to UAE AHjayceelyn Aurora Quintana, OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac, and CAAP Deputy Director General for Operations/ Flight Standards and Inspectorate Service Capt.Donaldo Mendoza, among others. (PIA DDCU with information from DOLE/House of Representatives)