In a symbolic action before the head office of the Department of Foreign Affairs on friday, 17 July, a prayer service and candle-lighting was conducted by families of stranded seafarers and OFWs along with advocates from various groups like the Mission to Seafarers, the International Seafarers’ Action Center and Migrante International. In his prayer, Fr. Mario Quince of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said, “We are united in the call for the urgent repatriation of seafarers and OFWs who are currently stranded in different corners of the world. We hope that DFA will devote plenty of time to provide immediate response to the pleas of stranded OFWs, seafarers and their families so that they can return back home.”
Mary Rose Valenzona longs for the safe return of her sister Michelle from Saudi Arabia. “Every day and night, before we go to sleep, we are always hoping that tomorrow, she will be with us so that we will no longer have to worry for her life. All we are asking is for our loved ones to be rescued from their abusive employers. Our troubles are already consuming us. Please have mercy on us.”
Anti-trafficking and migrant rights’ advocate Pastor Marie Sol Villalon from the United Methodist Church prayed that the “DFA will give justice, welfare and service to fellow Filipinos who had to leave for overseas deployment because there are no secure jobs in the country. We offer our thoughts for OFWs who have died and whose remains are still not recovered and brought back. Their families are suffering for being unable to see their loved ones.”
Holding the photos of deceased seafarers, Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “We are honouring OFWs who died overseas after not getting medical attention from their employers, their companies, the host country and of course, from their very own government. Raul Calopez and Stanley Jungco died without receiving medical attention. They have long been asking for help but the government is not responding. As early as march, our stranded seafarers in China have been pleading with government agencies but it was only after their plight was featured in the media that they began taking some steps. Is the government waiting for OFWs to die or get sick before they come to their aid?”
The prayer service closed with a candle lighting ceremony to honour OFWs and seafarers who have passed away during the COVID-19 global crisis. The families of OFWs and seafarers then proceeded to the Assistance to Nationals desk to file for repatriation requests. They also sought for a dialogue with OWWA which is expected to be held Saturday afternoon, 18 July.
During a hearing conducted by the Committee of the Overseas Workers’ Affairs (COWA) at the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdie Gaite raised the issue of stranded OFWs who were denied exit visas by their employers who abandoned them. DFA pointed to labour attaches whom it claims are responsible for facilitating the exit visas but are hesitant in shouldering the deployment costs necessary for exit visa issuance.
According to DFA, there are 10,151 OFWs requesting for repatriation from Saudi Arabia. Bayan Muna Rep. Kaloi Zarate questioned DFA figures saying that there might be more, even up to a million OFWs worldwide, who will want to be repatriated in the coming months and years. Zarate cited the lack of foresight which will be disastrous for the welfare of affected OFWs. Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas called the attention of DFA on OFW families who have been seeking for a dialogue. Philippine ambassador to KSA Adnan Alonto promised to engage but DFA Undersecretary Sara Arriola did not respond categorically.
Migrant advocates from the Mission to Seafarers, International Seafarers’ Action Center, Migrante International and Makabayan bloc legislators vow to continue raising the call for the immediate repatriation of stranded Filipino migrants and putting pressure on the Philippine government to urgently act on the long-standing demands of affected OFWs both sea-based and land based.