4,000 OFWs stranded in quarantine centers after tests halted
MANILA, Philippines —Around 4,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been “stranded” in quarantines since the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) stopped its COVID-19 testing services for them last week.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Tuesday that as a result, OFWs must endure a longer wait for their test results before they could be cleared and allowed to go home.
He warned that their number would keep increasing every day as at least 100,000 more were expected to arrive by year-end.
“Now that the people with the Red Cross are not doing the swab tests, we are now faced with another stranding of our OFWs,” Bello said in a videoconference briefing with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
Roque, however, said that government officials had already reached out to PRC executives led by its chair, Sen. Richard Gordon.
President Duterte also assured the PRC that it would be paid the P930 million owed by Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) for COVID-19 tests.
“To the Red Cross, don’t worry we will pay this,” Mr. Duterte said in a public address on Monday night. “It will take time but we will pay. We’ll look for the money.”
On Thursday, the PRC said it would stop conducting COVID-19 testing for the government until it received payment from PhilHealth for previous tests.
According to the President, the government was “just looking for a way to present a solution” to the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management regarding PhilHealth’s P930-million debt.
“We hope to settle at least 50 percent of that amount as soon as possible and the rest also within [a] reasonable time. So, I think the President’s request is for the services of the Red Cross to continue for the meantime,” Roque said.
Until the PRC stopped testing, Bello said authorities used to transport about 1,000 to 3,000 OFWs to their provinces every day. Due to the delay in test results, only around 300 OFWs were being brought home daily.
“You can just imagine how many OFWs are now stranded in all the hotels in Metro Manila. That is our problem. They are staying longer, while before they stay only as long as three to four days. Now they are staying beyond one week,” Bello said.
With the longer turnaround, he expected quarantines for OFWs to be full soon. “We are going again to the neighboring areas to look for quarantine hotels for them,” he said.
Since the pandemic broke out seven months ago, at least 248,469 OFWs who were mostly laid off due to global lockdowns have been repatriated. Many have endured months of waiting for repatriation flights.
“The sooner this issue on the payment is resolved, the better for our OFWs and the better for the finances of our government,” Bello said.
Commodore Armand Balilo, spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, said that OFWs now had to be interviewed one at a time to get their personal information before being tested and then given their quarantine assignments.
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