With the confirmed report of an OFW seafarer as being the first Filipino to contract the dreaded 2019-Novel CoronaVirus, Migrante International is alarmed over the Duterte regime’s incompetence in handling the outbreak and the subsequent travel constraints which have now been causing a whole set of trouble to affected OFWs and Filipino travellers. This most recent case of 2019-nCoV infection on a Filipino seafarer illustrates that OFWs are more vulnerable to contracting the virus and that the Duterte government stands no chance in containing the outbreak under the current state of the country’s public health care and emergency response system.
About 25,000 OFWs are reportedly stranded and in danger of losing their jobs after the Duterte government imposed a travel ban preventing Filipinos from travelling to and fro from China including special administrative regions (SARs) like Hongkong and Macau.
OFWs have already expressed fears of getting terminated from their jobs. The government’s reckless response after a period of denial has been causing frustration among Filipino permanent residents (from Macau and Hongkong) temporarily vacationing in the Philippines. It is now incumbent that health authorities look for ways to help them get reunited with their families. Estimates suggest that there could be about 20 thousand Filipinos that live and work in mainland China while more than a hundred thousand are in Hongkong and Macau.
While Health Secretary Francisco Duque is in denial about the true state of the Philippine health care system, the Duterte regime halved the budget for the health department’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Program from P262.9 million in 2019 to only P115.5 million in 2020 according to economic think tank IBON. No wonder, about 20 countries have standing travel advisories on the Philippines with the reappearance of polio after 19 years. In addition, poor pay and government neglect continues to exacerbate brain drain among Filipino health care professionals.
No matter how much the Duterte regime denies its inefficient response to the 2019-nCoV onset and the poor state of health services in the Philippines, it cannot cover up the torrent of confusion and frustration among OFWs who are torn between staying precariously in the Philippines, fearing termination from their jobs or pursuing their deployment abroad at this time of crisis.
At a time when addressing public health is of prime importance, the Duterte government preferred to prioritize Parlade’s military junket to Australia just to sow division and animosity among the Filipino community by discrediting progressive organizations like BAYAN and Migrante. Instead of sending out inutile government bootlickers and spin doctors who waste taxpayers’ money, the government should deploy humanitarian and rescue teams that would help OFWs seeking transfers to shelters or health facilities for quarantine and other services.
Migrante International is likewise calling on the government to efficiently extend assistance to stranded Filipinos including those who require repatriation. We challenge the government to be honest and transparent in its measures by sharing informative data to the public and ensure advancement of prevention and awareness. Philippine overseas employment government bodies and health authorities should reach out to the infected Filipino seafarer and to his family.
We are now appalled that Duterte’s previous racist and ludicrous remarks have now bred xenophobia, panic and misinformation. We call on the Filipino people in the Philippines and abroad to reject stigmatization and assert solidarity with the Chinese people at this time of crisis. Migrante International will continue to monitor developments on this public health issue and we will not allow the Duterte regime to exploit public fear to make life harder for OFWs and their families affected by the 2019-nCoV travel ban.