There are now only about 5,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), who remain under quarantine as of Friday noontime in Metro Manila and Batangas and waiting to be transported home by the government.
In a news conference, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) revealed that the government has already sent home 19,010 of the 24,000 OFWs, who underwent testing for novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
It was supposed to complete the task of sending home all of the said OFWs on Wednesday.
However, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said because of the delays in the release of the testing and clearances of the OFWs, as well as the availability of enough transportation, the DOLE, through its attached agency, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), was unable to meet its self-imposed deadline.
“I wish to restate that the government did not intend to inconvenience the returning OFWs with their prolonged quarantine and delayed test results,” Bello said.
“We apologize for the anxiety and discomfort that the unwarranted suffering may have caused our dear OFWs, all 24,000 or so of them,” he added.
Some of the concerned OFWs have been under quarantine for over a month.
He said they are targeting to complete the transportation of the remaining 5,000 OFWs during the weekend in compliance to the directive issued by President Duterte.
Duterte gave the OWWA, an attached agency of DOLE, and other concerned government offices only until this week to bring home all the 24,000 OFWs.
To prevent similar delays in sending home returning OFWs, Bello said the government is now considering testing them for Covid-19 before they return to the country, as well as profiling them so they will be grouped based on their province where they are headed.
He said there are at least 40,000 more OFWs who will be arriving in the country in the coming weeks who will also need to undergo testing.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, however, said that even if the OFWs are tested abroad, they would still have to undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing upon their arrival in the country in compliance with requirement of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“This is because if they get the advance test, they could still be infected [with Covid-19] when they go to other places, or within the plane. So our guidelines remain, test for all before they are allowed to enter in the country,” Roque said in a previous interview.
Instead of advance testing, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is recommending to increase the number of international airports, which have the capacity to provide testing for the returning Filipinos.
Currently, only the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila is being used for returning OFWs. Because of the sheer number of OFWs in the region, the Philippine Red Cross, which was tasked to do their testing, faced delays in releasing their test results.