By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Undersec. Claro Arellano told a congressional hearing on May 22, that at least 302,216 overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) had been either displaced, distressed, stranded or infected by the global coronavirus pandemic.

“An additional 200,000 would likely be added to the figure for the next 3 to 6 months,” Arellano said.

The Philippine Star reported that the government should now prepare for at least 21.7 percent of 2.3 million OFWs (as of September 2018) left jobless returning to locked down cities and closed businesses due to the pandemic.


The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s {OWWA) projection sees up to 42,000 OFWs repatriated and another 45,000 returning home in the next two months.

Hiring of OFWs has also taken a hit, with Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) administrator Bernard Olalia noting only 47 land-based Filipino workers hired compared to at least 30,592 at the same period last year.

“Including re-hires, 377,784 land-based workers were deployed from January to April, down 38.6 percent year-on-year. The pain is worse for seafarers whose deployment sank 53.5 percent annually to 79,818,” the report noted.

DOLE’s International Labor Affairs Director Alice Visperas said their agency is preparing a post-pandemic recovery plan for displaced workers, which includes 15,000 readied jobs assisting nurses for migrant workers.

On top of the plan, DOLE rolled out cash aids to OFWs including the one-time ₱10,000 assistance under Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong. But it has been suspended due to lack of funds after assisting 109,182 workers.

Meanwhile, Bank of the Philippine Islands chief economist Emilio Neri Jr. said remittances sent by Filipinos abroad, which hit a record-high of $30.1 billion last year and providing the economy dollars to service external obligations such as debt and imports, are needed to save lives and livelihoods.

“One of our greatest fears involving our overseas Filipinos are confirmed by these numbers. These knock-on effects on employment are now more compelling than its impact on the country’s balance of payments,” Neri said.

“Displaced overseas Filipinos make an even bigger case for speedy and more meaningful fiscal response to avoid an unmanageable spiral of employment, income, demand and output,” he added.

Migrante International Coordinator Lawrence Castillo, on the other hand, expressed concern on the on-going displacements as it will also impact families being provided for by OFWs and their earnings.

“The real problem right now is how will our OFWs support their and their families’ needs. We are hearing reports of congestion in our quarantine facilities here, while abroad, our OFWs have resorted to relying on each other to help cope with the situation,” Castillo said.

“At the very least, our OFWs still working abroad need to be provided very basic protective gears. The government should work doubly hard to reach out to them and deliver relief packages, instead of making them go to labor offices there,” he added.

National Privacy Commission is considering the public release of OFWs’ COVID-19 results to expedite their return to their families

In another report by The Philippine Star, Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said they are looking into releasing a Google Drive link containing a master list of OFWs who completed quarantine and tested negative for COVID-19 to the public.

Liboro said their agency will contact the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to “find out the purpose, necessity and balance” of the releases. “How they balanced the benefits by this approach vis a vis the possible risks” after they posted on their social media accounts on May 20 a link to the master list from the Philippine Red Cross containing the name, age, sex and COVID-19 test results of hundreds of returning migrant workers.

The master list also contains quarantine certificates of OFWs and their hometown and province, with the PCG noting the on-line release was approved by their agency, the Department of National Defense (DND), OWWA and the Bureau of Quarantine.

“OFWs concerned may download print-outs or grab screen shots of their respective BOQ-PCQ Quarantine Certificates, as evidence of their health condition when returning to their respective home communities,” the PCG advisory read.

Meanwhile, data privacy lawyer Cecile Soria pointed to a joint memorandum signed by the NPC and the Department of Health (DoH) on April 24 which addressed the “growing privacy concerns on the collection, processing and disclosure of COVID-19 related data.”

“Disclosure to the public, the media, or any other public-facing platforms without the written consent of the patient or his/her authorized representative or next of kin shall be prohibited,” Section VI paragraph D (2)(a) of the memo, on the disclosure of personal health information, stated.

“The level of privacy risk depends on the specific situation of the person and how much data on the person the unauthorized holder his data has,” Soria said.

“We cannot assume that every person has the same level of comfort in the release of their personal data in public,” she added.

This month, 15,000 OFWs are set to go home.

Moreover, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said at least 14,669 OFWs were cleared of COVID-19, including 44 seafarers who completed the 14-day mandatory quarantine at a facility in Tondo, Manila. They are set to go home this month while 500, who tested positive, were brought to available isolation and treatment facilities.