We, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Middle East condemn Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and President Rodrigo Duterte for imposing a temporary, indefinite suspension on the deployment of OFWs in theKingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) which started on May 27.  The reason cited by Bello in his memorandum is unacceptable — “reports that departing OFWs are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocol for Covid-19 and
insurance coverage premium upon their entry in the Kingdom.”

This directive is another proof of the Duterte government’s heartless abandonment of OFWs and our families amidst the hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It does not help, but rather punishes, Filipinos who want to work in the KSA, especially those who have already processed their papers.

We express our solidarity with the 282 OFWs who were not allowed to board the plane for Riyadh on May 28, because the government failed to immediately notify the Philipine Airlines of its directive. Mapapakain ba ng gobyerno ang pamilya nila? The government should pay for the expenses incurred by these OFWs and help them proceed to their work in the KSA.

 Instead of suspending OFW deployment on the basis of such reports, the Duterte government should shoulder the costs being asked of OFWs entering KSA. Similarly, it should shoulder the cost of the 10-day hotel quarantine being required of Filipinos entering Qatar, another country in the Middle East.

For decades, the government has extracted so much money from OFWs, and OFWs’ remittances have kept the country’s economy afloat. Now that OFWs are in need, the government should release a small section of the funds that it collected from us to actually help us. At the same time, Bello and Duterte should be shamed into remembering that Middle East countries have provided free vaccines and swab tests to countless OFWs since the pandemic began.

Ang kapal ng mukha nina Bello at Duterte! OFWs are leaving the country because the Duterte government has failed to provide us with decent jobs in the Philippines, even with sufficient financial assistance to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that we are forced to work abroad so that our families can continue to eat, it even dares to get in the way!  Walang alam at malasakit sa mga OFW sina Bello at Duterte! We believe that no OFW in his or her right mind would want the government to intervene in this issue in this manner. Yet Bello and Duterte try to project themselves as heroes of OFWs, when they are in fact kontrabidas in our struggle to survive. They like to say they love OFWs but their actions say otherwise.

If Bello and Duterte are really concerned about the plight of OFWs in the Middle East, they should heed our demands: SARBiS sa OFWs, ngayon na!

 (1) Sapat na Ayuda: 200 USD financial assitance for distressed and mdisplaced OFWs, P10,000 financial assistance for OFW families in the Philippines, and P20,000 livelihood assistance for OFWs who have been repatriated to the Philippines.

 (2) Repatriation: immediate repatriation of stranded OFWs in the Middle East.

(3) Benepisyo: release OWWA death and burial, disability and dismemberment, and other benefits, even for long-time members who failed to renew their membership because of the pandemic.

 (4) Serbisyo: provide swift, accessible, compassionate and pro-active services to OFWs in the Middle East.

Duterte makes a big fuss about his supposed concern for OFWs but his term is ending and Philippine embassies and consulates in the Middle East remain closed during Fridays, when OFWs have the free time to process their papers and access services. Nasaan ang malasakit? ###