On Tuesday, 18 February, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease has mandated that returning OFWs need to sign a “written declaration” to state that “they know the risk of going back to their places of work”. Reports cite that 10,000 OFWs have been waiting for the resumption of flights back to Hong Kong. Just exactly as we feared, the government really wants to browbeat OFWs into relinquishing their right to claim government assistance in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak. This “written declaration” is nothing but the government’s euphemism for its issuance of waiver forms intended to transgress the rights and welfare of OFWs needing government protection.
It is actually in times like these when government assistance and assurances are needed the most by OFWs. Instead, the government intends to abdicate its responsibility towards Filipino migrants. The Duterte government wants thousands of OFWs to leave with waived rights. If there’s an entity that needs to issue a “written declaration” to pledge assistance to OFWs, it should be no other than the Duterte government. From the outset, its corrupt labour export programme has been placing OFWs at risk. Migrante International reiterates its position that this waiver policy sets a dangerous precedent for the government to justify its neglect of OFWs in times of crisis or threats and to pass the blame on migrants for getting on with their deployment despite the risks.
This waiver is contradictory to what Malacañang said that “the government will always protect and provide support and assistance to all Filipinos whether here or abroad.” OFWs do not feel protected and supported that is why they are willing to leave. If the government is recognizing its responsibility, why require a waiver? Why not provide info kits on COVID-19 with emergency hotlines they can call? The government should also negotiate with airlines so that OFWs will no longer be required to pay additional fees for rebooking.
OFWs are torn with the dilemma of either being stranded in Philippine poverty and unemployment or expose themselves to viral outbreaks just to bring food to the table for their families. The Duterte government should be ashamed of itself for all its failures to the Filipino people which force them to risk life and limb overseas just to escape the distressing conditions in Philippine society. Filipino migrants are willing to take the rist not only to get back to their work and other affairs but because they also believe that they will get better medical care and attention in Hong Kong and Macau as compared to the poor state of public health system in the Philippines. They do not feel safe here in the Philippines with the absence of advanced health care facilities to handle the emergence of infectious diseases.