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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

President Duterte Assures OFWs of Support after Mideast Travel Bans

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte holds a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacañan Palace on March 9, 2020. ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Monday assured Filipino workers affected by restrictions caused by COVID-19 infections that the government is ready to extend assistance especially with the recent travel bans in the Middles East as well as retrenchments of local businesses.

“Any Filipino for that matter. Maski saan. Wherever he may be. And if he wants to go home here, to his country, we are duty bound to bring him back to the Philippines,” President Duterte said during the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 briefing in Malacanang.

During the briefing, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III the department’s immediate concern is the condition of Filipinos affected by the imposition of travels bans in Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

There are 740 Kuwait-bound Filipinos, with some flying directly to Kuwait, and some going through Qatar and Dubai. Those who reached Kuwait have no problem, Bello said, but those in Qatar and Dubai are barred from traveling to Kuwait.

DOLE’s option is either to repatriate the OFWs or wait until the ban is lifted. Kuwait said it needs seven days to procure equipment to detect the entry of COVID-19.

Bello said that currently, DOLE is mulling if it will wait for the lifting of the ban or repatriate the OFWs to the Philippines.

On Monday morning, there are 1,300 OFWs planning to go to Qatar, but the Mideast country declared a ban Sunday night, Bello said. With 1,300 OFWs to tend to, DOLE asks for funding to compensate the workers.

The assistance is similar to the support extended by the government to local workers when the administration carried out a six-month clean up in Boracay.

Aside from OFWs, DOLE will also grant monetary assistance to more than 4,000 workers affected with the recent retrenchments of 66 local establishments.

As a response, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said departments can always use their QRF or quick response fund during times of emergencies. But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) must know how much money was spent and how much more is needed so that it can replenish the fund.

The President told government officials during the briefing that for as long as the money is intended for the welfare of Filipinos, he will be the one accountable.

“I will take full responsibility for that. Akin lahat ‘yan. Bigay ka lang nang bigay,” he told the budget official.

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