Duterte gov’t hit for mass incarceration of OFWs and public release of their COVID-19 test results

If it were not for the uproar brought up by OFWs who were subjected to prolonged confinement in quarantine facilities, there’s no telling how many days or weeks more they would have to endure before President Duterte orders their release. This is also on the back of concerns on the shortage of quarantine rooms to take in 42,000 more OFWs who will be returning back to the Philippines in the next several weeks.

Throughout the duration of their confinement, OFWs complained that they have not really received financial aid, regular check ups and psychosocial services especially for repatriates who have histories of abuse and maltreatment from their foreign employers overseas. Under the government’s DOLE-AKAP program, many OFWs are not covered by the Duterte government’s financial aid. 

What was supposed to be a mere 14-day quarantine turned out to be a month-long isolation even for OFWs who already obtained negative results out of their COVID-19 tests. Confusion, frustration and depression vexed those who were still not allowed to leave because of the failure of pertinent government agencies to provide them with certification. The certification requirement only caused bureaucratic nightmares to OFWs who have long been used to more organized and more efficient deliveries from their host countries. 

PHOTO: Raffy Tima

The disorganized and disjointed undertakings of government agencies likewise roused alarms in the manner that the Philippine Coast Guard relayed information to OFWs regarding their release. While we support the use of digital means to expedite the process, it should never be at the cost of breaking the right of OFWs to privacy. Worst, the Philippine Coast Guard has been publishing on its social media account the Google Drive link which contains the masterlist of OFW names who tested negative for COVID-19. The Google Drive link was without any online security to safeguard sensitive data and protect OFWs from possible identity theft caused by privacy breach. Even the process itself of undergoing quarantine should never be revealed publicly without the OFW’s consent. It is really appalling that the google drive link was recklessly made available to everybody online. We demand for heads to roll among task force officials who violated the rights of quarantined OFWs to privacy. Migrante International is looking into possible legal actions against government officials responsible for this massive breach of rights to privacy. 

President Duterte has hundreds of billions of funds granted to him through emergency powers and yet the government can’t even provide a safe online tracker for OFWs to access centralized and updated details about their repatriation, quarantine, release, financial aid and other relevant information. For the lack of substantial aid during their confinement, the mass incarceration of OFWs is reprehensible when all the while we have seen Duterte’s underlings like Sinas, Koko Pimentel, Mocha and Bong Go violating Duterte’s very own ECQ with complete impunity.  

Filipino migrants were not found wanting in their collective efforts to raise their demands to the government through petitions, letters of appeal, phone calls to government agencies, and even testifying in the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs. The government should have promptly worked on the release and safe return of quarantined OFWs especially the elderly, pregnant women and those who have physical challenges. 

Early on, there should have already been a comprehensive plan for immediate and systematic mass testing, coordinated and organized quarantine process, transportation assistance plus other services without bureaucratic layers, and with clear and accessible information for our OFWs. We attribute the failure of the Duterte regime for its stubborn insistence on appointing military officials in the task force despite their glaring ignorance in the handling of a public health crisis of pandemic proportions. It created a task force fielded by a gang of military personnel without a single epidemiologist. 

While Filipino migrants are still crawling hapless from the Duterte government’s ineptitude, another menacing offense of the Duterte regime is that whatever diminutive ‘assistance’ OFWs received from the government will be soon blotted out completely with the impending implementation of the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike several days from now. FIlipino migrant communities have been banging pots and raising their voices in their Global Kalampagan to oppose the daylight robbery against OFWs perpetrated by the Duterte regime. Migrante International demands a comprehensive plan to ameliorate OFWs in this time of crisis. Tulong hindi kotong!