Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Wednesday, June 24, stressed that the government should help all Filipinos in distress, especially those abroad, emphasizing that “Pilipino ang mga ‘yan, documented man o undocumented, tulungan dapat natin.”
Go raised concerns of overseas Filipino workers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development attended by other senators and concerned government agencies.
Go sought answers from the Department of Labor and Employment on the assistance they extend to even undocumented OFWs who are affected by the pandemic.
“What kind of assistance are we extending to undocumented OFWs? To date, how many of them have been repatriated? How long will it take to repatriate our undocumented OFWs? Ano ba ang mga nakikita ninyong problema tungkol dito?” Go asked.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III responded, saying that they are prioritizing the provision of assistance to documented OFWs as they are the ones who, technically, fall under the jurisdiction of the DOLE.
Bello assured, however, that they will also extend assistance to undocumented OFWs once documented OFWs have been assisted.
“Doon sa documented, may binigay si Pangulong Duterte na PhP2.5 billion na cash assistance. Kaya lang sa pagbibigay ng cash assistance ay priority ‘yung mga documented. Ang una, ‘yung mga documented na nawalan ng trabaho o hindi nawalan ng trabaho pero hindi makapag-trabaho dahil sa lockdown,” Bello explained.
Bello also appealed to the lawmakers to help the labor department secure funding for the cash assistance for OFWs as requests for aid have already exceeded DOLE’s target–from 250,000 to more than 500,000 migrant workers seeking government assistance.
Go, then, implored the DOLE not to neglect undocumented OFWs, saying that they are also Filipinos and that the government is mandated to assist them, especially now that they are in distress.
“Kailangan natin suportahan ang lahat ng ating mga kababayan na naghihirap ngayon lalo na’t panahon ng krisis sa buong mundo. Sabi rin ni Pangulo na walang dapat mapabayaan na Pilipino sa laban na ito,” Go emphasized.
The Senator also sought updates about OFWs stranded in Metro Manila who are waiting for their COVID-19 test results. He also asked for clarification regarding the difficulties in coordination between DOLE and local government units on the repatriation of affected OFWs.
Bello responded, saying that the 24,000 OFWs reportedly stranded in Metro Manila were stuck while waiting for their test results. After the President demanded for the issue to be resolved, Bello said that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases streamlined the repatriation and health protocols.
“Nung nagkaroon ng kautusan si Pangulong Duterte, all agencies worked together. Fortunately, we’re able to send home within the one-week period given by President not only 24,000 but 25,000 OFWs,” Bello said.
“Based on this experience, ang ginawa namin sa IATF na nagkaroon ng usapan na ‘pag dumating ang OFWs, longest they should stay here (Metro Manila) is five days. Fifth day, dapat ipauwi na sa final destination. Ganun na ang bagong protocol ngayon,” Bello added.
The labor secretary also mentioned that the IATF are notified in advance if an OFW is returning to the country so they can immediately coordinate with their receiving LGUs.
“Uulitin ko po, dapat siguraduhin na willing at handa ang LGUs na tatanggap sa mga uuwi nilang mga kababayan. Bilang chair ng Senate Committee on Health, lagi kong ipinapaalala sa ating mga ahensya na sundin ang tamang proseso at magkaroon ng maayos na koordinasyon lalo na sa lokal na pamahalaan upang maisaalang-alang palagi ang buhay at kaligtasan ng mga tao,” Go said in previous statements
According to IATF officials, when the OFWs arrive in the country, they will be subjected to a COVID-19 test and will be accommodated in partner-hotels. Once they tested negative, they will be sent home to their provinces.
Go also sought answers from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration as for the status of deployment for Filipino seafarers and other related matters. According to POEA head Bernard Olalia, they already started the consultation process with a maritime industry tripartite consultative council for issues of Filipino seafarers including flexible work arrangements and reduction of their wages.
Olalia also mentioned that labor standards below minimum cannot be approved by POEA without tripartite consultation.
Meanwhile, founder and current president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center Susan Ople expressed her support in pushing for a dedicated agency to handle OFW concerns which is in line with Go’s proposed measure establishing a Department for Overseas Filipinos.
“Kung may iisang department po sana, madaling ma-monitor….But ngayon kasi, we have to deal with the reality na maraming departments ang may kanya kanyang pondo. So, we just want to affix ‘yung accountability,” Ople shared.
“Bakit po ang daming locally stranded individuals (LSIs), kasi po lahat nagpupunta sa Manila to get jobs abroad. For this, we can introduce legislative reforms to strengthen POEA and its regional offices, and also the modernization of POEA. Sana din po ‘yung matagal nang inaasam na department for OFWs,” Ople added.
Filed in July last year, Senate Bill 202, or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019, seeks to address concerns of overseas Filipinos. The bill proposes that government agencies dealing with OFW matters and concerns be transferred to a single department to be established./Stacy Ang