"This is the least we can do for our displaced and repatriated workers."
As many as 300,000 overseas Filipino workers face uncertainty this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing them to lose their jobs and forcing a homecoming under the least ideal of circumstances.
“This is our chance to show the importance of OFWs when they get home,” says Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano.
From the looks of it, however, the national government is not able to take advantage of that chance. Repatriated workers, with their dreams of a stable, higher-paying job abroad, are coming home in batches, fearing for their health and anxious over the bleak economic future that awaits them.
Upon arrival in the Philippines, these workers are subjected to mandatory quarantine in government-accredited facilities and testing for the coronavirus. But there are reports that while they tested negative, they could not leave the facilities as the printouts of their results had yet to be released. Desperation and homesickness compound their woes.
The government has also said it would provide transportation so the repatriated OFWs could return to their home provinces. Unfortunately, a lack of coordination with local government units that would receive the workers has given rise to the issue of whether it is safe to receive them at all, and whether the LGUs even have the capacity to provide the safety protocols that may not have been observed while the national government was in charge.
Local units would, of course, wish to welcome their returning workers back into their homes, but have to balance this with the duty to protect the health of constituents.
Mishandling the protocols to ensure the safe return of our workers to their homes is most definitely not the way to show them how important they are, and not only for the remittances they send. Their heroism stems from their supreme sacrifice of leaving their families and living in a foreign land just to secure a better future for their loved ones.
Then again, the process of safely reintegrating them to their communities is just half the battle. What means of living can they look forward to, nobody can tell. Their prospects were bleak before the pandemic, which was why they ventured out in the first place. Finding work at home, during the economic slump caused by COVID-19, is going to be a challenge.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III says his department will provide a livelihood assistance of P20,000 for OFW beneficiaries, who can then decide to put up their own business or plant crops. The one-time handout will be useful, but the displaced, repatriated workers will need guidance in their chosen livelihood opportunity. We need commitment from the government to put in place measures to generate jobs, not only to tide the workers until the economy bounces back, but to give them real options on where to live and work. It’s the least we can do for these heroes who are now in distress.