MANILA – The national government could utilize ships and planes of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to send the 24,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stuck in quarantine centers back to their respective provinces, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this announcement after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Health (DOH) to utilize all government resources to transport OFWs back to their homes after being cleared for coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
“Ang sabi po ng Presidente, kung hindi po sapat ang pribadong bus, eroplano at barko, puwede rin gamitin ang mga barko at eroplano ng hukbong sandatahan (The President said that if private buses, planes and ships are not enough, ships and planes of the Armed Forces can also be utilized),” he said in a virtual presser.
To date, Roque said the OWWA has started sending OFWs back to their respective provinces with the help from private airline companies.
Around 3,459 plane seats have been reserved for OFWs as of May 25, 2020, he said.
Roque said OFWs living in parts of Luzon will be sent to their respective provinces via bus while those from Visayas and Mindanao will be transported via plane or ship.
He assured OFWs that they will each be issued with quarantine certificates to present to authorities on their journey back home.
“Yung wala pong kopya ng quarantine certificate nila na kakailanganin para makauwi, wag po kayo mag-alala nagkaroon ng sistema ang OWWA na bibigyan po kayo ng kopya ng inyong certificate bago kayo sumakay ng bus, eroplano o barko (Those without quarantine certificates, which are needed to return home, don’t worry, the OWWA has put in place a system to provide you with certificates before you get on the bus, plane or ship),” he said.
Under government guidelines, all returning OFWs are required to undergo facility-based quarantine and Covid-19 tests to be shouldered by the OWWA.
Roque reminded concerned agencies to ensure that only OFWs with negative test results will be allowed to return home.
Last week, Presidential Peace Adviser and National Task Force on Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. expressed concern that the arrival of some 42,000 returning migrant workers this May and June could overwhelm the country’s patient care centers.
Around 500,000 OFWs are expected to return within the year, he said.
Recent data showed that about 30,000 OFWs have undergone PCR testing and around 600 were found positive, he added.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, in line with Duterte’s directive, vowed to send home coronavirus-free OFWs under the OFW Return Program. (IA/PNA)