MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte urged local government units (LGUs) to accept returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been cleared after undergoing mandatory 14-day facility-based quarantine to rule out coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In a televised public address aired late Monday night, Duterte told LGU officials to find out whether returning OFWs from their localities were “not a threat to the community” before being allowed to return to their homes.
Duterte also warned LGUs against discriminating against OFWs who are already cleared of Covid-19 infection by barring them from returning to their own homes for fear that their communities would catch the virus.
“Makinig kayong (Listen, you) local executives — the national government will insist that you accept the OFW. Magkakaroon ho tayo ng problema (We will have a problem) if you resist because then as a worker of government, it falls upon my shoulders to see to it that everything is done fair,” he said.
He made this warning after the travel of 100 OFWs to Iloilo province scheduled last month got canceled.
Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. gathered the signature of the local chief executives asking the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) not to allow the flight.
Defensor and the local chief executives in the province were concerned that the return of the OFWs increases the risk of the spread of Covid-19, after one of the first batch of OFWs, who initially returned to Iloilo tested positive for Covid-19.
“I heard also, I’m sure sa (in the) City of Iloilo, hindi ninyo tinanggap ‘yung mga OFW (you didn’t accept the OFWs),” Duterte said.
He urged Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas to follow the guidelines crafted by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), otherwise, the national government will “impose it” on him.
“Sir, Mayor, nakikiusap ako sa inyo na sundin lang ninyo ‘yung (I appeal to you to just follow the) guidelines. I will operate through the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government). Kasi (Because) it’s either sumunod kayo (you follow them) or I will impose it on you. Sumunod kayo sa magandang paraan o pipilitin ko na sumunod kayo (Just follow in a good way or else I will force you to follow the guidelines),” he said.
Duterte, however, expressed hope that the issue in Iloilo has been resolved by now.
He said it was not right for OFWs to be driven away when their remittances are “one of the pillars of the country’s economy”.
“Importante lang (It’s just important) that the returning workers, our brothers, and sisters, who have labored abroad, to give us also their share of their income… Kaya ‘yang (That’s why) remittances ng (of) dollar is one of the pillars ng ating (of our) economy. Ang GDP diyan is malaki ang binibigay ng OFWs (OFWs have a huge contribution to GDP), we do not want to repay them with this kind of behavior,” he said.
In 2019, OFW remittances reached a record high of US33.5 billion (PHP1.70 trillion).
Under the IATF-EID guidelines, all returning OFWs, whether land-based or sea-based are required to undergo a mandatory 14-day facility-based quarantine and undergo rapid anti-body based testing.
Peace Adviser and National Task Force Covid-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., in the same meeting, bared that they would be organizing “mega swabbing areas” to test more OFWs using the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing.
“After they were tested negative, maybe after three days or four days they can go home already with the certification of the Bureau of Quarantine that they are Covid-free,” Galvez said.
As of Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported 68 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 among Filipinos abroad, bringing the total number of positive cases to 1,819.
The total number of recovered cases among overseas Filipinos worldwide rose to 475 while the death toll climbed to 214.
Meanwhile, Duterte also emphasized the role of local officials and police in contact tracing efforts.
He said the DILG would be providing the guidelines on how local officials could help the national government, stressing that they could not do it on their own.
“Without the local executives, patay (we’d be dead). We will crumble. So your — your toil is as good as mine,” he said. (ia/PNA)