Heroes in agony
Here we go again. The agony of overseas Filipino workers languishing in quarantine, a number of them for almost two months, once more illustrates how badly served President Duterte is by his “best and brightest.” That, as announced by his spokesperson, he had given the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Health one week to get the OFWs home to their respective provinces suggests such a tangled mess that he, the President, needs to wrench his attention from affairs of state and tackle the minutiae of simmering issues before anything can get done. It’s ridiculous, this notion of Superman, despite the foreign secretary’s thrilled twittering. Is no one at work among the President’s people in charge of Filipino workers?
Apparently not. From accounts, thousands of OFWs, those whom the government likes to sing paeans to as the Philippines’ “modern-day heroes,” have been stewing in hotels and lodges serving as quarantine centers as well as in cruise ships, literally imprisoned by bureaucratic incompetence. Most of them are paralyzed by the absence of a certificate indicating that they were found negative in the COVID-19 test to which they submitted when they arrived in the mother-
land from wherever it was that had been benefiting from their brawn and brain. To compound matters, crooked personnel are reportedly seeking to cash in on their misery to the tune of P500 in exchange for the release of a certificate.
Earlier, women who had worked as domestics in Kuwait were reported as waiting to be tested, and then, after interminable weeks, told that they had to fork out P3,000 for a test kit. Their immediate lives, they were told, depended on the test result: if negative, then freedom to head home to their loved ones; if positive, then a transfer to a designated medical institution for treatment. Fair enough, except that they had no funds for the required test, had in fact been under the impression that the government would pay for it, and were now caught in a dead end.
Yet the women and others in similarly dire straits have exceeded the mandatory 14-day quarantine during which they would have exhibited symptoms of the virulence stalking the planet if they are indeed infected. That they are generally in good physical health makes up the grievous irony of their detention: to be on native soil (or waters) yet so distant from their families’ embrace.
This is what the fruits of the Marcos-era labor export policy have come to. The instability of their condition, the agony of confinement in tiny rooms for weeks on end, has gnawed at the OFWs’ mental state, resulting in distress and depression. The reported admonition that they should be grateful for the free board and lodging adds deep insult to injury.
Granted that the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are complicated and manifold. But it behooves the agencies formed ostensibly to ensure the well-being of the modern-day heroes, and who have surely profited from OFW labors—if not in pecuniary terms, then in image embellishments—to buckle down and get to work. Cutting the red tape is a necessary first step. In these parts, don’t we all know it, corruption is an enduring song.
Perhaps the deputy administrator of the OWWA—who obviously occupies as favored a position in the “best and brightest” hierarchy as the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office—should start making herself useful in the matter of OFW concerns. She draws a hefty salary, after all—doing exactly what, it is uncertain. Why is she being paid handsomely for making what she claims as “honest mistakes” in her propagandizing?
The Philippine Statistics Authority estimates the number of OFWs at 2.3 million. As of May 21, more than 28,000 have returned to the Philippines as a result of the pandemic; some 40,000 more are expected back in the days to come. It is unthinkable that the heroes are returning to a system in shambles when the “best and brightest” bureaucracy is theoretically configured to provide a haven for them who spend their productive years abroad toiling for their loved ones (for some, in the most dangerous conditions)—and in the process helping grow the motherland’s economy through their remittances, the so-called “drivers of domestic demand.”
Consider the seafarers—deemed among the finest in the world—trapped in ships anchored on Manila Bay. Or the other OFWs who landed on April 4, were tested May 7, and at this writing are still awaiting their test results. This is no way to treat the men and women whose remittances amounted to $33.5 billion in 2019.
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