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Despite Duterte’s order, LGUs still want to test and quarantine returning OFWs

26 May 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap
OFWs lined up at Manila airport for their return home Tuesday
Local government officials in the Philippines have been told to accept all overseas Filipino workers returning to their homes from various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte issued the order late on Monday (May 25), after earlier instructing the Department of Labor and Employment to organize the return of some 24,000 OFWs, who had all they tested negative for Covid-19, to their hometowns.

During the televised meeting with his Cabinet, Duterte said it was “cruel” to deny the OFWs the right to return to their own homes, and that the local government units (LGUs) risked being sued if they hindered such right.
“It is the constitutional right of people to travel and go home. Do not impede it, do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally,” he said.

Most of the OFWs had been stuck in various quarantine centers in Metro Manila for up to two months because their test results were released way beyond the mandatory 14-day isolation period, or had no means to go home because of the lockdown.

Despite the order, various LGU officials, like Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez, have said that they will resort to conducting a further test on the returning OFWs, and put them under quarantine if they deem it necessary.
According to CNN, these OFWs were allowed to go home as early as Saturday (May 23) 
The LGU’s response was supported by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, even after he assured the President during the televised meeting that all the 24,000 OFWs being sent home had tested negative for the coronavirus.

Año said on the radio program Dobol B sa News TV today, May 26, that the LGUs had the right to require the OFWs to undergo testing again, and to put them under additional quarantine.

Pindutin para sa detalye

“Wala namang problema, nasa kani-kanilang lugar na sila, kung baga one step closer na. Bigyan din natin ng respeto ang mga LGU,” he said.

(There’s no problem with that, they (OFWs) are already in their hometowns, it’s like they’re already a step closer to their homes. Let’s just give respect to the LGUs.”

But administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration had a different view, suggesting that prohibiting the OFWs from reuniting with their families would violate the president’s order.
Speaking on the same radio program, Cacdac said: “The policy is clear. Reunite OFWs at all cost.”

He also said that the “gold standard” for testing had already been carried out, and all the returning OFWs were shown to be negative for the virus, so there was no reason why they should still be prevented from going home.

“Sila ay Covid- free,” he stressed.

Later, he tweeted: “After 2 1/2 months of ECQ, we should have already learned that family reunification rises above anything. Our returning OFWs are covid-free with DOH certifications to that effect. Please accept them home.”
Cacdac stressed in his interview with Dobol B that the returning OFWs have tested negative for Covid-19

Cacdac disclosed that hours after Duterte issued an order to get the Covid-free OFWs home within a week, 3,000 of them were immediately put on buses for their return home.

By Tuesday, between five and six thousand more were flown or put on ships in line with the order.

As of May 20, a total of 465 out of some 30,000 OFW returnees had tested positive for the coronavirus disease, according to Covid-19 chief implementer Camilo Galvez.

He emphasized the importance of testing all returning OFWs, saying if they were allowed to return home, those who had the disease could spread it to their community, leading to a “second wave” of infections.

He also acknowledged the problems posed by the influx of OFWs who are forced to return home after losing their jobs abroad, saying a further 42,000 are expected to be repatriated in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the total number of new infections across the Philippines has spiked to 350 today, bringing the total tally to 14,669. Of these, 10,371 are deemed active.

There were 89 new recoveries, bringing the total to 3,412. The death toll rose to 886, with 13 new deaths being reported.

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