MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday said it respects the decision of some local government officials to let returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) undergo a second round of facility-based quarantine before returning to their respective homes.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, assured that the 24,000 OFWs ordered home have already been tested, found negative, and completed the 14-day quarantine requirement.
“Nasa desisyon na po ‘yun ng LGUs. Pero yung mga OFWs, fully tested po, negative po sila sa PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing so baka naman masayang ang quarantine. Pero, we respect your prerogatives (It’s the decision of local govenrment units. But they have tested negative in the PCR testing. Placing them in quarantine might be a waste of time and space. But we respect your prerogatives),” he said in a virtual presser.
Roque made this statement after some local chief executives aired their frustration over the lack of coordination from the inter-agency task force on the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2)” program.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez expressed frustration over the lack of coordination by the national government after his Covid-19-free city was “surprised” with a fresh batch of arrivals.
Gomez shared that he received a text Monday from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Regional Office 8 and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), informing them that there were three planes arriving in Tacloban City and telling them to receive the OFWs without allegedly following health and safety protocols.
“We have kept our city Covid-free for more than 70 days because of strict border controls and implementation of health protocols. Then here comes a text from the national government agencies telling us that there are repatriates coming in our city and telling us to accept them? What happened to all the protocols that we’ve been working on?” he said.
Gomez said his city is willing to accept and isolate the returning residents, but emphasized that prior to returning to the city, the concerned agencies should have coordinated with them first.
A total of 11,848 OFWs have returned to their hometowns as of May 25, data from the OWWA showed.
Some 300,000 OFWs are expected to return to the country this year as their host countries have been sending them home.
The BP2 program, a pet project of President Rodrigo Duterte’s former special aide and now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, seeks to decongest Metro Manila which is home to 12.87 million Filipinos.
Under the program, the government is expected to provide transportation assistance, transitory assistance packages, and livelihood assistance to BP2 beneficiaries.
Deployment ban lifting uncertain
As quarantine restrictions eased, some healthcare workers are wondering when the temporary deployment ban will be lifted.
Roque said the ban could be lifted once the Covid-19 situation in worst-hit countries improves.
“Kapag humupa na siguro iyong banta ng Covid-19 sa mga lugar na nais nilang puntahan (Perhaps the ban could be lifted when the Covid-19 threat in those countries is lessened),” he said.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) earlier issued Resolution 09 temporarily suspending the deployment of all health care workers “until the national state of emergency is lifted.”
However, criticism from labor groups prompted the IATF-EID to review the temporary deployment ban and eventually allow health care workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8 to work abroad.
All OFWs, except health care workers covered by the deployment ban, are now allowed to leave the country to work abroad. (ia/PNA)