The hurting heroes and tips to care for each other
Overseas Filipino workers are recognized by our government as the country’s modern day heroes. Their contribution has helped reduce poverty and played a major part in turning our once lackluster financial system into the booming one for the past several years until the Covid-19 pandemic came a few months ago.
There are an estimated 10 million OFWs – roughly one-tenth of the country’s population – working for the promise of higher wages and better opportunities for themselves and for their families back home. In 2019, remittances from OFWs reached a record high of $33.9 billion, equivalent to about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
With the global health crisis, around 95,702 OFWs were repatriated by the government and thousands more are awaiting repatriation. The companies where they work for has stopped giving their salaries and food rations for the past weeks.
Mang Caloy and about 15 of fellow laid-off workers at a firm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are patiently waiting to be rescued and be brought home to the Philippines to be with their families. He is one of the thousands of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia desperate to return home because they have lost their jobs and they are being overlooked in a coronavirus-ravaged nation that does not see them right now as a priority.
The sad part of the story is the remains of OFWs who died in Saudi Arabia are still waiting to be brought home.
Next week, the third batch of remains of OFWs will be brought back to the Philippines. The interagency committee led by the Department of Labor and Employment had so far brought home 137 OFWs who succumbed to Covid-19 or other causes.
Preliminary figures from the overseas offices of DOLE and the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh indicated that those ready for repatriation are 57 OFW remains who all died of the Covid-19. The biggest number will come from Jeddah with 30 bodies, 20 from Riyadh, and seven from Al Khobar.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they will accord the modern-day heroes the same grand welcome and memorial ceremonies due them upon their arrival. The chartered Philippine Airlines cargo plane will arrive in Manila on July 28. Just like what was done to the remains of the first two batches, the remains will be brought directly to crematoriums upon arrival.
Meanwhile, the government will exhaust all means to help OFWs regain jobs they lost abroad due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bello said there is a possibility that OFWs will be rehired by their former employers with the reopening of many economies around the world. Bello said industries abroad are almost fully operational again and they could recall OFWs anytime.
The government is able and ready to engage with foreign governments with new policies on migrant workers with regards to safety and health measures against the Covid-19 infection and will help facilitate the documentation or needed requirements from OFWs to prove they are not a threat to the health and safety of the people of the host country. There are also possibilities, according to the DOLE, that OFWs could be rehired en masse by countries whose economies are fast recovering.
Experts from the Asian Development Bank said that the Covid-19 pandemic could trigger stricter health and safety rules in recovering economies, especially on workers from countries with weak Covid-19 response systems.
Filipinos have nothing to worry about the government’s way of dealing with the pandemic as it has sustained a strong and effective response against the outbreak.