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House resumes probe on repatriation of stranded OFWs — Defensor

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The House committee on public accounts resumes on Tuesday its inquiry into the repatriation of tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been stranded abroad since the lockdown in March.

Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, committee chairman, said his panel would like to get updates from concerned officials on their commitment to bring home more workers.

“We would like to know how many OFWs have so far been repatriated, how many are still stranded and where, when are they flying home, what assistance our workers are receiving, and what are the agencies’ plans for them once they finally get home,” he said.

Defensor noted official pronouncements last week that about 70,000 OFWs have been repatriated.

“That means that some 90,000 are still stuck abroad and are awaiting for their commercial flights or for charter plans to fly them home,” he said.

He recalled that when labor and foreign affairs officials promised to repatriate more workers two weeks ago during his committee’s first hearing, they revealed that 167,000 OFWs were stranded, including 88,000 in Saudi Arabia.

The officials blamed their failure to bring in more workers on the daily limit set by the inter-agency task force (IATF) on Covid-19 response of 1,000 overseas Filipinos who could return on their own or be returned to the country by the government.

“They committed to bring this problem to the attention of IATF and to arrange for more repatriation flights. Since the IATF has relaxed travel restrictions, it should allow more inbound planes – whether commercial or charter – bringing in stranded OFWs,” Defensor said.

Those to be flown home include more than 300 who have died in Saudi Arabia. So far, the remains of several workers have arrived in the country.

“We should bring our modern-day heroes home – both the living and the dead – as soon as possible to be reunited with their families,” Defensor said.

He said his committee has been told that at least 16,000 of stranded OFWs already had their plane tickets and exit permits from their employers and host countries.

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