By Macon Araneta

Sen. Richard Gordon urged more passenger flights carrying unemployed and stranded OFWs to come home.

Gordon, chairman and CEO of the Philippine Red Cross, wrote to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

He pointed out, “I’m aware that we have to take precautions but I think it would not be a problem if we allow more flights to come in and distribute them to other airports such as Clark, Subic, and Mactan,” Gordon said in a letter to Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., IATF’s chief implementer and his deputy, President and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority Vivencio Dizon.

Gordon assured that diverting flights to the airports in Clark, Subic and Mactan would pose little risk to efforts to combat the spread of the disease since PRC testing centers will be operational within the week in the said areas. They have hotel capabilities as well.

“I’m sure your prompt action would be greatly appreciated by our kababayan in the Middle East whose suffering would be alleviated because they will be able to come home to their families. It must be very hard, being stranded and jobless in a foreign land, far away from your loved ones and unsure of where to get money for your next meal and other daily needs. I have also received emails pleading for help about their situation,” he said.

The Philippine Embassy in the UAE earlier wrote to the IATF seeking assistance for hundreds of OFWs unable to return to Manila. They have been stranded because Emirates and Etihad cancelled several repatriation flights from Dubai to Manila after airports in the Philippines were temporarily closed to passenger flights due to the pandemic.

On the other hand, after speaking with an OFW in distress in Saudi Arabia on a recent phone patch interview, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go called again on the government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, to intensify support for affected OFWs, especially those seeking to return home amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Go spoke with Noly Garcia, a bus driver working in a bus company in Riyadh, who said that he and other fellow Filipino workers need assistance to return to the Philippines in the middle of the global health crisis. Garcia said that they could not get assistance from their employer. They were also asked to file a complaint so that the embassy can act on their concern. 

The DFA said 24,422 OFWs have been repatriated as of May 2. The Maritime Industry Authority is also bringing home stranded seafarers and their families in Metro Manila back to their provinces through its Seafarers Uwi Pamilya program. 

According to Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Joel Garcia, up to 18,000 OFWs were stranded in Metro Manila as of last week as their hometowns were not yet ready to accept them, amidst the viral threat and delays in testing.