“Heaps of backlog in swab testing, slow release of test results, congested quarantine facilities, distressed OFWs, slow repatriation to provinces – will the government still wait for an outbreak before these problems are resolved?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Migrant groups are dismayed with the lack of preparation as government estimates that thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are bound to return in the country.
In a statement, Migrante International lamented that in more than two months of community quarantine, President Duterte’s government still has no “comprehensive plan encompassing medical intervention and financial assistance for OFWs.”
During Duterte’s public address last Tuesday, May 20, Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez admitted that the present temporary quarantine facilities may no longer accommodate the increasing number of OFWs returning the country.
According to Galvez, there are 27,000 OFWs presently staying at government-designated quarantine centers and hotels. At least 13,000 OFWs have been cleared and were sent home.
The Philippine Red Cross, meanwhile, has tested 22,432 OFWs and 465 of them were tested positive for COVID-19.
Galvez said that an estimate of 42,000 more OFWs will arrive in the country in the next two months.
“Since the massive influx of OFWs back to the country has already been anticipated early on, there is clear criminal neglect on the part of the Duterte regime. It’s hard to forget the tragic fate that befell one OFW from Kuwait who committed suicide inside a temporary quarantine facility in Pasay City,” the group said in a statement.
On arresting OFWs
The group also denounced Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin Jr. for calling on authorities to arrest OFWs who escape from quarantine facilities.
“It is such a shame that OFWs traumatized by their experiences abroad and in local quarantine facilities are now being treated like criminals by their own government,” the group said.
Migrante lamented that prior to the return of OFWs in the country, many of them have endured abuses from their employers. While coping with their trauma, Migrante said the OFWs also anguish over their loss of livelihood due to the pandemic.
Worsening condition of OFWs in quarantine facilities
The group also raised alarm on the worsening condition of OFWs in quarantine facilities. Based on Damayang Migrante’s online consultation and monitoring, COVID-19 has spread among the OFWs.
Migrante said this is due to the unsuccessful polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, violation of one-person-per-room policy, no widespread provision of face masks and alcohol, lack of systematic health monitoring and violations of social distancing measures.
The group revealed that nearly 400 OFWswere brought to the World Trade Center (WTC) and 10 of them tested positive for COVID-19. Only 15 of them had an early swab testing due to symptoms and the rest were tested the following week. Eight out of 15 came out positive.
Armand Hernando, chairperson of Migrante Philippines, said that due to lack of staff at the facility, OFWs had to take care of themselves such as preparing their own food and sending food to their colleagues. Toilets and shower areas are also lacking while water supply is also intermittent.
Hernando added that during the third week at the facility and the 14-day quarantine was completed, OFWs fear of the possible outbreak when ten of their companions were taken to Ninoy Aquino Stadium. As a result, they had to be swab tested again and transferred to various quarantine facilities in Quezon City.
This month, Hernando said they received incessant complaints from OFWs regarding quarantine facilities. Some have been staying over 14 days in quarantine facilities but there are still no COVID-19 testing. There is also no explanation from any government agencies. It reached to a point where some groups protested so that their calls will be heard, he added.
“Heaps of backlog in swab testing, slow release of test results, congested quarantine facilities, distressed OFWs, slow repatriation to provinces – will the government still wait for an outbreak before these problems are resolved?” asked Hernando.
Migrante said that OFWs deserve support they needed such as financial aid, psychosocial support, medical and transportation services. Without this, they said that temporary quarantine shelters are nothing but detention facilities.