IT is commendable and it is fitting that both the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor (DoLE) are rising to the challenge of bringing home to safety thousands of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), who have been stricken by the pandemic or have been stranded in foreign lands.
This reverse diaspora dramatizes in equal measure, first, the lifeline for the nation that our OFW sector has provided our country and our people over the past decades and, second, the massive dislocation and ordeal that the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought on our overseas worker community, which accounts for some 10 million Filipinos at any given time.
The surpassing importance of this sector has not been fully documented in the nation’s annals.
We know, first, that OFWs have been remitting to the homeland over $25 billion annually for over a decade or nearly two decades. This represents, by itself, a vital and irreplaceable component of the national economy that is bigger than the contribution of any single industry or economic sector in national life. The sector has been one vital reason why the Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.
Second, the scale of dislocation and tragedy that the pandemic has wrought on our overseas workers is massive and spans the whole world.
The numbers of those who have been displaced and are being repatriated are staggering. Through continuous monitoring by the DFA and DoLE, the nation constantly gets a good idea of the number of OFWs who: 1) have tested positive for the virus; 2) have tragically succumbed to the disease; 3) are in the hospital; 4) have been successfully repatriated home; and 5) are scheduled for the next flight home.
We are updated also on the conditions of employment of affected workers and the different classes of OFWs who have been principally affected by the pandemic.
According to the DFA, a total of 124,717 overseas Filipinos have, so far, been repatriated by the foreign office amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The DFA said that 39.8 percent, or 49,655, of the repatriated Filipinos are sea-based while 60.2 percent, or 75,062, are land-based.
The number of Filipino repatriates breached the 124,000 mark after 8,924 overseas Filipinos were flown home this week, said the DFA.
A total of 3,660 overseas Filipinos arrived in the Philippines this week from the United Arab Emirates via 13 special commercial repatriation flights and one DFA-chartered flight.
The DFA also welcomed the return of 2,349 Filipino seafarers from Bangladesh, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
“Through the help of its various foreign service posts and the Filipino community abroad, the DFA was able to facilitate the repatriation of stranded overseas Filipinos from remote locations such as Mongolia, Palau and the island of Diego Garcia [on] the Indian Ocean,” the DFA also said.
Meanwhile, President Duterte has dramatically boosted the funding for the repatriation of OFWs.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello announced the President’s approval of an additional P5 billion for the repatriation and assistance of OFWs. A huge chunk of the fresh funds will go the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), he said.
Last month, the DFA had warned that the P1-billion fund provided for the repatriation of OFWs stranded by the pandemic would likely be depleted by the middle of this month. Every chartered flight to bring home OFWs costs the government a whopping P13 million to P14 million per flight.
The government’s repatriation effort has no doubt been complicated recently by the deadly blast in Beirut last August 4 that killed 153 people and injured thousands. The DFA reported that four Filipinos died and 47 were injured in the enormous explosion. Given the magnitude of the destruction, the foreign office expects the number of affected Filipinos to increase further.
A repatriation flight to bring home the injured and the dead has been scheduled for August 16. The flight will also be available for about 400 OFWs, who have expressed the desire to go home from Lebanon.
There are approximately 33,000 Filipinos in Lebanon with 75 percent of them in the Greater Beirut area.
“The DFA remains unwavering in its commitment to bringing home our distressed nationals abroad wherever they are in the world,” said the foreign office.