Government agencies involved in the repatriation of stranded overseas Filipino workers abroad agreed yesterday to double the weekly quota of OFWs to be sent home.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) agreed with Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Michael Defensor that the weekly average of 7,000 OFWs to be picked up from various countries be increased to 14,000 per week.
Defensor, chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, presided the briefing on the Government’s Approach in its Migration Policy Response to the COVID 19 Pandemic called by the House panel held Friday.
DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said the operation has already cost the government some P600 million out of the P1 billion fund allocated to assist distressed and displaced Filipino nationals overseas.
Arriola disclosed that the government spends at least P12 million to P13 million to charter flights that could accommodate a maximum of 350 workers.
Together with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Arriola said the DFA also wants to increase the number of Filipinos to be repatriated.
However, CAAP Deputy Director General Jim Sydionco said the flights allotted for the operation are being regulated under the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
He said the agency will accede to assign more flights provided that returning OFWs will be tested for COVID 19.
Arriola said it is now time for the government to replenish the funds it allocated for the OFW assistance to ensure a smooth flow of operations.
During the virtual briefing, Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto said at least 88,000 OFWs are still stranded in the Middle East kingdom but only 10 percent or 8,000 of the number have exit permits from their employers.
Alonto suggested the use of Philippine Navy ships or the commissioning of cruise lines to speed up the process of transporting the Filipinos home.
According to the envoy, based on the current pace of repatriating OFWs, all 88,000 may be home as long as 250 days and as expensive as P3 billion.