By Dolly Yasa,
Joseph B.A. Marzan and
Emme Rose Santiagudo
Western Visayas officials scrambled to receive thousands of repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers who were sent home by the national government starting May 25, 2020.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has informed local chief executives that the mass transportation of OFWs has started on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a memorandum issued over the weekend, DILG Undersecretary for Operations Epimaco Densing directed regional directors, provincial governors, city and municipal mayors, provincial directors, and chiefs of police to facilitate the unhampered mass transport of repatriated OFWs to all regions of the country.
The memorandum said that the more than 24,000 OFWs in Metro Manila shall be moved at an estimated 8,000 persons per day using all modes of transportation by land, sea and air.
Densing said “we have to inform you of the transits without the names and shall have to advise the local government units (LGUs) to accept as long as the required documents are shown by each OFW.”
He said that if the OFW has incomplete or no document, the LGU may just have to quarantine him/her for PCR testing for COVID-19, then isolated while waiting for the results.
Most of the OFWs are mostly cruise ship crewmembers who were onboard their vessels or stuck in hotels and crowded health facilities.
On Monday, 692 OFWs arrived in Western Visayas onboard a 2GO ship – 237 in Bacolod and Negros and 455 in Iloilo –while more than 100 others arrived via two airline sweeper flights at Iloilo Airport.
Villa said that the WVRTF has resorted to using the sports complex’s grandstand area for document processing, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, and as a waiting area for their transport to be provided by their respective local government units (LGUs).
Atty. Roy Villa, spokesperson of the Regional Interagency Task Force on COVID-19, said OFWs who arrived in Iloilo City were “processed” at the Iloilo Sports Complex.
Villa said the grandstand area will be used for document processing, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, and waiting area for their transportations to be provided by their respective local government units (LGUs).
OFWs who tested negative can go home to their respective hometowns. Those who did not undergo tests will still be transported home but they will undergo quarantine and testing at the designated isolation areas in their towns and provinces.
“We coordinated for their testing, because not all of the OFWs went through [the WVRTF’s process], and we also coordinated with the LGUs on their transport. Due to the higher number of OFWs that will now be going home, we will be using the Iloilo Sports Complex for their processing, for testing and where they will be fetched by their respective OFWs,” Atty. Villa said.
Villa said the DILG, Land Transportation Office (LTO), and LGUs have prepared transportation logistics for the homebound OFWs.
He said that this was the only addition to the usual process, where OFWs from Aklan, Antique, and Capiz provinces will be brought to their respective LGUs for testing.
Only OFWs from Iloilo City, Iloilo province, and Guimaras will be tested at the sports complex and then they will be transferred to hotels in the city for mandatory quarantine.
Villa said the WVRTF and the city and provincial governments of Iloilo were only informed of the repatriations on Monday.
In an interview with TeleRadyo, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced on May 25 that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered agencies to repatriate OFWs within one week.
Villa shared the concern that some of the OFWs who tested negative in Metro Manila might be infected on their way home.
“But we are hoping and praying that they will be in good health. And I believe that our LGUs are capable of attending to them just in case. Let’s hope and pray for the best,” he added.
As of May 25, 2020, Department of Health data indicated that 32 of the 108 COVID cases in Region 6 were repatriated OFWs.
4,000 IN CITY
In Iloilo City, Mayor Jerry Treñas said they expect more or less 4,000 returning OFWs.
Treñas said the city is preparing for the returning repatriates as the national government announced the mass transport of 24,000 OFWs from Metro Manila to their home provinces.
The mayor said more or half of the returning OFWs are from Region 6.
“Ready naman kita sa mando sang aton Presidente nga pabalikon na tanan nga stranded OFWs. From 24,000, daw tunga gid sina mga Ilonggos. So magsiling ka tunga, based sa division diri sa provinces sa region, around 4,000 diri sa Iloilo City,” he said in a radio interview on Monday.
Treñas said the quarantine centers in Iloilo City are ready to accommodate the returning OFWs. He said he has also coordinated with the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force (RIATF) for the bulk of returning OFWs in the coming days.
“Ginacoordinate naman naton ang maga-alabot, sige-sige na ni. Daw ready naman ang RIATF, kita ya we will just support their actions,” he said.
According to the mayor, repatriates who have secured negative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test can undergo home quarantine while those who have no negative RT-PCR test will be placed on isolation centers and hotels provided by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
“Well kon waay pa sang results handa kita and ang aton OWWA to place them in facilities sa siyudad and sa hotels. Kon hotels lang, we have a total of 5,000 hotel rooms in Iloilo City,” he assured.
On Monday, more than 455 OFW repatriates arrived in Iloilo City via a 2Go vessel. Out of this number, 76 are OFW repatriates who are residents of Iloilo City.
130 OFW repatriates also arrived in Iloilo on Monday via a sweeper flight arranged by OWWA for returning repatriates.
Eleven of the 130 repatriates are from Iloilo City while 57 are from Iloilo province; 25 from Aklan; 15 from Antique; 19 from Capiz; and 3 from Guimaras.
SHOCKED BUT RELIEVED
Iloilo Governor Art Defensor said he was surprised by the influx of OFW repatriates, saying that the national government did not coordinate with local officials.
“I was surprised upon hearing that there were three scheduled repatriations today, even the [WVRTF] was unaware because it wasn’t coordinated by the national government. So, we acted upon it quickly, and I’m relieved that the [WVRTF] is handling it well,” Defensor said.
Defensor also stated that resorts in the province may soon serve as quarantine facilities for OFWs, starting with an unnamed hotel in San Miguel town.
“We are already planning to have our resorts here in the province as quarantine facilities because of this growing number of returning OFWs. Maybe as early as [May 26] we may be able to bring them there,” he said.
He also said that he had spoken with the Schools Division Superintendent to prepare schools as isolation facilities.
Meanwhile, Treñas pushed for the accreditation of additional Covid-19 laboratories of private hospitals and local government units (LGUs).
“Amo na ang private hospital, sigehon lang nila ang laboratories and sa aton di sa siyudad sa Molo. Sige-sigehon ta gid na para indi na kita maghulat and we can do more testing,” he said.
Last week, representatives of Department of Health (DOH), Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and World Health Organization (WHO) visited the site of the proposed COVID-19 laboratory of Iloilo City in Molo district.
The city plans to start the purchase of construction materials for the first COVID-19 laboratory of the city government by June.