MANILA – The Philippine government is closely coordinating with Saudi Arabia following reports that some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound for the Middle Eastern country have been barred from entering due to the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Cacdac made this assurance, clarifying that there is currently no ban on the entry of OFWs bound for Saudi Arabia.
However, Saudi Arabia has banned foreign pilgrims from entering the country five months before the annual hajj pilgrimages.
“I think the Saudi government has already clarified this, walang (there is no) ban on reentry sa mga (on the) OFWs,” Cacdac said in a Laging Handa press briefing in Malacañan Palace on Monday.
Cacdac explained that the Philippines and Saudi Arabia currently have a “good cooperative relationship.” In fact, he said representatives from Saudi’s Ministry of Labor were in the Philippines last week to discuss cooperative measures from the labor front.
He expressed confidence that with the help of the Saudi government, the Philippine authorities will be more equipped to look out for the welfare and protection of OFWs there.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez expressed concern over some Filipinos being barred from entering Saudi but vowed to look into these reports.
“Our embassy in Riyadh is closely monitoring the situation…All this information is being processed by the embassy and they’re looking at these reports,” he said in the same press conference.
Meñez explained the reported barring of OFWs from entering Saudi will also be brought to the attention of authorities.
“If there are those who are negatively affected, we will also bring those cases to the attention of the Saudi government so they are better able to implement whatever policy they decide to take,” he added.
He admitted that there may have been a “misunderstanding” in relation to Saudi’s scope of regulations, but his agency will ask the Saudi government to clarify the policy.
“We hope to clarify all these reports and be able to inform the public kung ano talaga ang existing policy ng bansang iyon (what is the existing policy in that country),” he said.
Last week, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., who was supposed to have an official trip to Saudi Arabia, was barred from entering the Middle Eastern country. He was scheduled to speak to OFW organizations in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia regarding the proposed Department of OFWs.
However, he said he respects the precautionary measures that had to be taken by Saudi Arabia to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Saudi Arabia’s selective ban came after the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that the number of new daily Covid-19 cases outside China had exceeded those inside the country for the first time. It follows a sudden increase in cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea.
Currently, the WHO had not identified any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier, the WHO raised the risk assessment of Covid-19 to “very high” at both the world and regional levels. There are 58 countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases and 20 countries with local transmission.
The Philippines has imposed temporary travel bans with varying degrees of restrictions on China and its administrative regions Hong Kong and Macao, and on North Gyeongsang province, particularly Daegu and Cheongdo, in South Korea.
No negative impact
Meanwhile, Cacdac also assured that there is no “negative impact” on employment and hiring amid the Covid-19 threat.
“So far there have been no negative signals in the sense na magbabawas sila or ayaw nila ng Pilipino (that they’re laying off Filipinos or no longer want to hire Filipinos),” he said.
He said both the OWWA and DFA will monitor the labor market forces in the countries affected by Covid-19.
More than ever, he said, countries continue to admire OFWs for the quality of their hard work.
“We are very confident that the governments of areas affected as well as employers in the areas affected have their full faith and trust with the Filipino workers,” he said.
On the other hand, a total of PHP20,000 worth of financial assistance will be given to returning OFWs who have decided to stay in the Philippines for good. (iam/sovereignph.com/PNA)