Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go

MANILA – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has called once again on the government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), to intensify support for affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly those who want to return home amid coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Go renewed his appeal after speaking with Noly Garcia, a bus driver working in Riyadh, through a recent phone patch interview with journalist Raffy Tulfo.

“May nakausap akong isang kababayan natin sa Saudi Arabia. Nahihirapan siya at mga kapwa niyang OFWs na umuwi dahil wala silang assistance na nakukuha sa kanilang mga employer. Nahihirapan din silang mag-contact sa ating embahada (I’ve talked to an OFW in Saudi Arabia. They are facing difficulties to return home because they don’t get assistance from their employer. It also difficult for them to contact our embassy),” Go said.

Go said Garcia and other Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia need assistance to return to the Philippines in the middle of the global health crisis.

Garcia said they could not get assistance from their employer and they were also asked to file a complaint so that the embassy can act on their concern.

“Ang gusto po namin sana, gusto na po namin makauwi, sir, ilan kami dito na Pilipino… Wala naman nag-a-assist sa amin (We want to go home. But nobody is helping us),” Garcia said.

He said they fear for their lives as some of their companions have either succumbed to the deadly disease or have been experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.

The DFA reported that 24,422 OFWs have been repatriated as of May 2 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Maritime Industry Authority is also bringing home stranded seafarers and their families in Metro Manila back to their provinces through its Seafarers Uwi Pamilya program.

Philippine Coast Guard commandant Admiral Joel Garcia said up to 18,000 OFWs were stranded in Metro Manila as of last week as their hometowns are not yet ready to accept them pending their Covid-19 test.

“Dapat po talaga mabigyan ng pansin ang ating mga OFWs, lalo na sa ganitong panahon. Sila ang nagsisikap sa labas (ng bansa) pero marami sa kanila hindi maramdaman ang welcome sa kanilang sariling bansa (We need to help our OFWs especially in this time of crisis. They sacrifice to work abroad but many of them feel unwelcome in their own country),” Go said.

Go said President Rodrigo Duterte earlier made a directive to help overseas Filipinos who want to go home.

He said the cooperation of all agencies is needed to help OFWs, urging them to streamline the processes of the necessary documents.

Go emphasized the need to create a separate department that focuses on the OFWs.

“Kung meron tayong departamentong talagang nakatutok sa kanila, magiging mas maayos ang pagresponde sa mga krisis at mas mabilis nating matutulungan ang ating mga kababayang humihingi ng saklolo (If we have a department dedicated for them, responding to a crisis would be easier and assistance would be immediately given to them),” Go said.

In July 2019, Go filed Senate Bill 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019 which aims to make the government more efficient and responsive to the needs of Filipinos abroad.

The proposed bill aims to put concerned government agencies dealing with OFW concerns under one umbrella. A committee hearing has already been conducted to tackle the measure.

The House of Representative’s version has already been passed on third and final reading.

The creation of the Department of OFWs (DOFWs) is one of Go’s priority bills filed just more than a month after being elected as senator in May 2019.

The proposed DOFWs, which is also part of the Duterte administration’s priority legislative agenda, will be responsible for formulating programs for protecting and promoting the welfare of Filipino workers, managing and overseeing their foreign employment, and providing assistance particularly those in distress.

“Let’s give them the support they deserve as modern heroes,” Go said. “We should make sure that all Filipinos in distress, here or abroad, are given timely assistance and that measures are also undertaken to protect their welfare, especially in times of crises.” (PR)