The remains of the 301 deceased overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia will have to be flown out of the kingdom and back to the Philippines by July 4, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Sunday.
“We were given a deadline of July 4, so we hope to bring them back before that deadline,” he said in a statement.
According to Bello, the Department of Health will issue protocols for the handling, reception, and the domestic transport of the remains early this week.
He added that the bodies of the 151 OFWs who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are included in the number, and will be transported directly to the crematoriums identified by their respective families or local government units upon arrival in the Philippines.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will charter two flights from Riyadh and Jeddah where the remains will be transported from various regions in Saudi Arabia before they are flown back to the Philippines, the labor secretary noted.
Meanwhile, Bello assured that DOLE’s assistance programs and other measures to aid displaced Filipino migrant workers “are in place the moment they arrive in the country.”
This, as he welcomed the pronouncement of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) that it would look into allowing more airlines to participate in the repatriation of OFWs.
CAAP has been strictly regulating flights in the country to help control the spread of infections.
Bello noted that during a congressional hearing last week, CAAP Director General Jim Sydiongco said the agency is willing to increase the number of flights to bring home more OFWs.
“Our permit to fly is actually based on requests and not on restrictions. So if government agencies request more flights to help our displaced workers abroad, we allow them,” Sydiongco had said.
Bello said CAAP need not worry about the arrival of more OFWs since DOLE is “more than ready to accommodate them.”
“With CAAP’s permission, we can now bring home more OFWs so they can find refuge in their own country and be reunited with their families,” he said
“We now have systems to locate and track OFWs so that while they signify their intention of flying home, preparations for them are already being made such as testing, hotel accommodation, and transport service to their places of origin,” Bello added, referring to the OFW Assistance Information System (OASIS) developed by DOLE to locate migrant workers and help the government prepare the needs of returning OFWs.
“What’s important is the readiness of the government to provide prompt and appropriate service for our OFWs,” he further said.