LSIs and OFWs: No name for their pain
“My breath grows weak, and the gravediggers are gathering for me.”—Book of Job 17:1
Except for the frontliners, all citizens are under imposed lockdown or in various degrees of quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so even those in charitable and aid ministries are not able to reach out to those in extreme need. There are only the mandated government agencies and their skeleton staff doing the enormous task of caring for this benighted nation and its citizens in distress. But what if government falls short?
A heartbreaking example of government falling short is the case of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and locally stranded individuals (LSIs), the latter getting a descriptive name newly added to the Philippine disaster lexicon. Many OFWs, already stranded for weeks abroad or in cruise and cargo ships in the high seas, came home only to again find themselves stranded, quarantined for weeks on end in hotels and resorts, after which they became LSIs.
If not for the frontline media workers, only few would know about the plight of the OFW-LSIs and LSIs, stranded in airports, piers, and bus stations, unable to proceed to their homes and places of destination. There have been cases of women OFWs giving birth in the most unlikely places, people stricken ill, even dying with only their fellow distressed OFWs and LSIs caring for them. All that despite the fact that the government had known all along that OFWs were coming home in droves, that is, in the tens of thousands, and that many foreign-bound OFWs-to-be caught in the lockdown were stranded in Metro Manila, unable to fly out or go back home after weeks in limbo. These Filipinos found themselves waiting, waiting, waiting with little protection from the scorching sun and pouring rain.
I keep imagining myself in their situation but my imagination can only go so far. There is no name for their pain.
Those scenes, flashed repeatedly on TV or bannered in newspapers, show criminal neglect at its worst. And only after these LSIs’ pleas were aired did government agencies make haste, finding food and temporary shelter for them if at all, while the Good Samaritans and bleeding hearts among us are closeted in their homes, unable to help directly.
But commendable are the church institutions that, early on, opened their gates to homeless street dwellers and night scavengers. These denizens of the streets are so much luckier than the arriving OFWs, the so-called “modern-day heroes” of our times.
“Is this how heroes are treated?” was the oft-repeated refrain from the stranded OFWs. That, as we await the arrival from the Middle East of more than 300 dead OFWs, many of them victims of COVID-19. What a scene it would be, hundreds of boxes with the remains of so-called heroes being unloaded from the belly of an airplane. And if allowed in the arrival areas, the next of kin and the sound of their weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no name for their pain.
I hear the LSIs and OFWs’ Job-like lamentations. In paraphrase:
My breath grows faint, and I see death clouds gathering in the distance. All my waking hours are spent in waiting. No one cares to lift my hands to warm them, no family to watch my child being born.
My eyes have grown dim, my ears hard of hearing and my stomach sour and empty. Is this what I become for serving stone-hearted masters in inhospitable lands? I left my homeland only to return unwanted and unsung.My days have passed, every fiber of my heart is bleeding as I chase the darkness. Where is my hope? They have shut their hearts and ears to my distress. I wait, I weep, I wail. There is no name for my pain. I have become only a byword, flotsam.
Flotsam, a word President Duterte mentioned in his briefing last Tuesday, close to midnight, as usual. A word he used to describe the despairing OFWs-turned-LSIs. Ah, he knows the word. So, why the delay? The day is done and the night is drawing nigh.
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