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150 stranded OFWs share tales of woe as they finally fly to Manila

26 May 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Some of the 150 jubilant workers who flew home today

There were smiles all around when 150 Filipino migrant workers who had been stranded in Hong Kong due to repeated flight cancellations joined about 50 other passengers of a Philippine Airlines flight that left for Manila this morning.

Consulate officials led by Consul Paulo Saret, head of the assistance to nationals section, sent off the stranded workers who had mostly complained of having run out of money to pay for food, accommodation and rebooking fee while they waited for a flight home.


Among them were 14 with medical conditions, including a cancer patient, three stroke victims, a worker who is three months’ pregnant, and others with various ailments like pneumonia, hypothyroidism and extreme lower back pain.

But even among those who were sick, relief was clearly written on their faces. Not surprisingly, because they, too, had to wait for weeks or even months for the chance to finally go home and be with their families again.

 Guerrero says her spirits lifted when she got to the airport for her flight home

Bernardita Guerrero, who was taken to the airport directly from Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai where she had been recovering from a stroke, said her spirit soared when she finally got to the airport.

Pindutin para sa detalye

Sumaya akong bigla,” (I suddenly felt a surge of joy) Guerrero said, who hardly looked sick despite being confined to a wheelchair and having to rely on staff of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to check her in for the flight.

The Filipina who had worked as a domestic helper for the same employer for the past 24 years, said she had wanted to go home as soon as she got the green light from her doctors. But her flight was canceled earlier this month, and the next available date given her was Jun 5.


She was overjoyed when told she could join today’s flight.

Gilda B. Aludino, who suffers from acute myeloid leukemia or blood cancer, could not hide her smile, either, when asked how she felt about going home.

Although looking frail and gaunt, the helper said that after one round of chemotherapy all she wanted was to be with her family again.

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Aludino was accompanied to the airport by her employer and a small group of people who kept trying to cheer her up as officers of the Philippine Overseas Labour Office checked her in for the flight.

The employer even made her sister chat on video with the helper, who was then prodded to smile and pump up her puny fist while chanting, “I am strong.”

OWWA welfare officer Virsie Tamayao assured the employer that Aludino would be allowed to skip quarantine when she gets to Manila, and go straight to her hometown in Cagayan.

This family of 3 couldn't let go of a beloved member of their household

There were other heartwarming scenes of employers and their family members seeing off an obviously well-loved member of their household.

One local couple who anxiously gave last-minute instructions to their helper up until the departure gates, were obviously upset to let her go.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

The male employer later said the helper had been with them for more than 20 years.

Another couple, also local Chinese, saw off their helper along with their teenage son, and just before letting her go, posed for several last-minute photos with her.

The family, including the father, hugged the helper a couple of times before finally allowing her to go into the departure area.

Cortado can't hide her glee despite paying $800 for her excess baggage

April Cortado, who managed to get onto the priority list for the flight after her mother passed away, said she was also blessed to have employers who care about her welfare.

They did not release her from their contract, and promised to take her back after she’s said a final goodbye to her mother and comforted her three children who had been looked after by their grandmother and were grieving.

Her over solicitous employer packed Cortado's bags with so much chocolate and other food stuff for her quarantine that she ended up paying $800 for her overcharge. But the stiff penalty was not enough to dampen Cortado's excitement over her impending trip.

Also breathing a sigh of relief was Ginalyn Villaruz, who had anxiously pleaded with the Consulate to get her on the flight as she is three months pregnant, and only had three more days left in her visa.

Villaruz was worried that she may not be allowed to board a flight home anymore when she’s too far gone in her pregnancy. She was also worried about the cost of giving birth in Hong Kong, as she no longer has an employment visa that would entitle her to nearly free medical care in public hospitals.

The Villaruz couple (left) talk of how Ginalyn's return home meld with their future plans

Her husband Romeo, who saw her off at the airport, said he also wanted Ginalyn to go back home as soon as possible so she could relax more, and  look after their three growing children.

All those worries are now behind them, after Ginalyn happily relayed the news that as she was on the flight’s “priority list”, she was placed in the plush Sofitel hotel for her 10-day quarantine in Manila.

No less happy were most of the other passengers on the flight, as all that they had looked forward to in the past few weeks was to fly home and be freed of having to spend what’s left of their hard-earned money on food, lodging and other day-to-day expenses.

Joan Sabate said that in the three months that she was stuck in Hong Kong, she was forced to rebook her flight four times, and each time, was charged a rebooking fee of no less than $150. 

Ubos ang naipon ko,” (I used up all my savings) said Sabate, who decided to quit her second contract after being diagnosed with a developing scoliosis and told to get a break from work.

She also lamented that while waiting for a confirmed flight, she had to stay in a cramped boarding house and go to several offices, including the Consulate, Immigration and PAL offices, when the cause of the repeated delays was not even made clear to her.

Despite all that, Sabate said: “Napakasaya ko dahil makikita ko na ang mga anak ko.” (I am so happy because I will finally see my children again).

Saret says that with another 150 workers leaving on Jun 1 the passenger backlog would have cleared

Consul Saret said it was also a relief to see off 150 more stranded workers.

He said the Consulate had asked Philippine authorities to give PAL 200 extra slots in its daily arrival quota but only 150 were approved, likely because “kino-control pa rin nila ang arrivals.” (The government is still controlling the number of arrivals)

But he said another 150 slots were given for the next specially arranged flights for the stranded workers next Tuesday, Jun 1. By then, he hopes everyone who has been waiting to board a flight home would have left Hong Kong.

Although 420 people had signed up with OWWA for the special flights, he said many appear to have left already after buying a ticket with another airline.

Kahit itong 150 nahirapan kaming punuin kahapon,” he said. (Even with today’s 150 passengers we had difficulty filling the slots).

ALA Sunga (in red) helps a worker repack her overweight bag

He advised anyone whose flight has been cancelled by PAL to sign up with OWWA so they could be included in the Jun 1 flight.

He also reminded them to always ensure that they have a valid visa so they won’t encounter any problems when they finally fly home. Visa extension fees can be waived with the Consulate’s endorsement, he said.

Also at the airport to help ensure no last-minute hiccups would hold up the home-bound workers were Assistant Labor Attaches Tony Villafuerte and Angelica Sunga, Consul Bob Quintin, Social Welfare Attache Lucita Villanueva, and other officers of the Consulate.

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