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Duterte orders quarantine centers cleared of OFWs within a week

25 May 2020

By The SUN

According to GMA's Raffy Tima, one OFW quarantined here for 2 months committed suicide (Raffy Tima's FB page)

An operation to clear various quarantine centers across Metro Manila of some 24,000 overseas Filipino workers stranded there for up to two months has begun, hours after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the facilities emptied within a week.

The order, announced this morning, May 25, by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, came amid mounting appeals from the OFWs to be allowed to return home after being held in the quarantine facilities for far longer than the mandatory 14 days.

At least one OFW held in a quarantine facility had committed suicide, according to a post by a reporter from GMA News, while another was distressed after being warned by her son that he would take his own life if his mother didn’t go home soon.

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Many had already tested negative for the virus but didn’t have any means of getting to their provinces, or were still waiting for the clearances they must show to their local officials to ensure they will be allowed to return to their homes.
Roque said the president found it unacceptable that OFWs who had sacrificed staying away from their families to serve the country, are being made to suffer even more just because their test results had been delayed.

Duterte also ordered officials to fully equip testing centers outside Metro Manila so OFWs may directly go home to their provinces and get tested there.

There are currently 35 accredited Covid-19 testing laboratories across the country, where the new coronavirus has so far infected 14,035 people, with 868 deaths. 

However, the test results of the OFWs are all being coursed through the Philippine Red Cross, which also services various local government units.

Rapid testing at Manila airport is conducted by the Coast Guard 

Acting on the order, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a radio interview this morning that OWWA and the Philippine Coast Guard would arrange daily trips for 8,000 OFWs via land transport and flights from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the next three days.

“Hindi na namin paaabutin ng isang linggo. Sa loob ng tatlong araw, pipilitin namin na mapauwi ang ating mga kabababayan na nahihirapan na sa quarantine facilities,” Bello said in the interview over Dobol B sa News TV.
However, he said 44,000 additional OFWs are expected to return home in the next few days after being repatriated from various countries overseas.

Bello said that the operation to bring home the stranded OFWs will begin as early as today. He assured the OFWs that they could go home straight since they have coordinated their efforts with the Department of Interior and Local Government.

“Starting Monday, bus trips to Bicol, Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region and Central Luzon will be made available, while flights to Cagayan de Oro, Tacloban, Bacolod, Davao, Cebu, Iloilo and Zamboanga will be arranged for until Wednesday,” said in a statement issued Monday by the Department of Labor and Employment.

OFWs must present their quarantine passes from the Bureau of Quarantine or a certificate from the Coast Guard’s negative list to qualify for the free return trips to their home provinces.

In at least one facility, the clearance certificate could not be issued to the OFWs immediately reportedly of a lack of a printer. Following criticism, the Coast Guard uploaded a list of all OFWs who tested negative of the virus, but many could still not go home because there were no means of transport available to them.

An additional 44,000 jobless OFWs are expected to fly home to Manila in the next few days

Among those who had complained after being held for more than a month in a quarantine facility  in Batangas were a group of OFWs from Hong Kong. They sent out an appeal to Consul General Raly Tejada last week, who forwarded the same to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Most of the OFWs had been told to stay put despite a long delay in the release of their deep swab test results. Others had already been cleared after testing negative for the virus, but could not go home because of the nationwide lockdown.

Since March 15, returning OFWs were required to undergo a 14-day home quarantine as a measure against COVID-19. OFWs who reside in the Visayas and Mindanao, however, were stuck in Metro Manila since Luzon has been placed under enhanced community quarantine, which banned mass transport, including domestic flights, from March 16 to May 15.

Starting April 13, returning OFWs were put under mandatory quarantine in government facilities, including two ships berthed at a Manila port, and hotels and resorts accredited by the Department of Tourism.

Since April 27, returning OFWs were required to undergo swab tests, and wait for the result before being cleared to go home. But despite assurances that the result would be out in 3-5 days, many OFWs had been stuck for weeks while waiting for the all-important clearance.

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