House to probe repatriation of stranded OFWs

The House of Representatives would hold on Friday an inquiry on the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were stranded abroad and outside their hometowns in the country.

Anakalusugan Representative Mike Defensor would chair the House Committee on Public Accounts that would investigate the issue.

“Consistent with the directive of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in the case of the social amelioration program, we want to look into the problems plaguing the repatriation of our workers overseas, who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and find solutions,” Defensor said in a statement on Wednesday.

Defensor said the House would summon all concerned officials to address the issues concerning the repatriation of displaced OFWs.

He added that the House representatives were wondering why concerned agencies are taking so much time to bring stranded OFWs home.

“We have thousands of them in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East and Europe who have been waiting to return home since the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

“What are the agencies’ problems in trying to get them home? Are there no planes that can be chartered to fly them? Are there no government planes or ships that could be used? Are there sufficient repatriation and related funds? These are some of the questions we want answered,” he added.

Defensor stressed out that the hundreds of Filipinos who died of COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia should be immediately brought home to the Philippines.

“The agencies cannot even agree on the number of fatalities. The labor department reported that there are about 280, while our embassy in Saudi Arabia claimed in a television report that there are more than 350, 100 of whom have died due to COVID-19,” he said.

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The lawmaker also lamented the difficult situation of many OFWs who were forced to sleep at the while waiting for their home.

“The sight of hundreds sleeping under the NAIA tollway for days before the Army took pity on them and offered them temporary shelter does not speak well of the agencies that should be attending to them,” he said.

“Again, we ask, are there no Air Force planes or Navy or Coast Guard vessels that could transport our workers to their provinces in Mindanao and Visayas?” he added.

Officials of the Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the inter-agency task force against COVID-19, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Transportation, some ambassadors assigned to the Middle East, and OFW representatives were invited to attend the hearing.