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Thursday, September 24, 2009
DOLE FACTS SHEET: On Repatriation of Stranded OFWs in KSA
The 120 OFWs who flew in with President Arroyo on Thursday, 24 September 2009, came from Riyadh , Saudi Arabia . These are "runaways" that have been provided temporary shelter at the Filipino Workers Resource Center of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO). Apart from temporary shelter, POLO staff and OWWA welfare officers also provided them with the necessary assistance and support.
No distressed OFW who comes to the FWRCs is ever turned away or allowed to get hungry, contrary to some media reports. The OWWA has the money not only for other welfare assistance, but also for food for distressed OFWs.
In fact, the OWWA, advanced the payment of the air fares of the 120 stranded OFWs who were repatriated, but it will run after and collect from the recruitment agencies of the stranded workers for under the law, it is these agencies that must pay for the air fares of the distressed OFWs.
The plight of distressed OFWs was one of the items in the agenda of President Arroyo during her official visit to KSA. This being the fact, she made a pitch for the repatriation of stranded OFWs in the Kingdom with King Abdullah who graciously offered help as a gesture of goodwill to a visiting head of state.
The repatriation of stranded OFWs in KSA, particularly those "runaways", normally take some time because they have to secure the consent of their employers before they are given their exit visas.
It is a policy in KSA that only the King could overrule once a high level representation is made. In this case, President Arroyo made the representation that expedited the release of the workers' exit visas or their No Objection Certificates (NOC).
The difficulty in obtaining an NOC from their employers normally arises from the refusal of the employers to issue the documents to the 'runaway' workers for various excuses and issues, some of which are work-related, such as below par work performance, bad behavior, etc. In this case, the Philippine overseas labor officers in Saudi Arabia had to exert diplomatic and other efforts to persuade employers to issue the NOCs. Thus, the allegation of Migrante in the media that the OWWA and the POLOs are not doing anything to help the stranded OFWs have no basis in fact and remain just that—an allegation.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is an institution that does not indulge in politics. Even before the President's visit, the Department of Labor and Employment, through its overseas labor offices in Riyadh and Jeddah, has been working to repatriate the stranded OFWs in the Kingdom, particularly those 'runaways' in the FWRCs.
The government is also facilitating the exit papers of the remaining stranded Filipino workers who have camped out under Jeddah's Kandara bridge, 97 of whom have already been brought home.
The alleged delay to time the repatriation with the President's visit does not hold any water. The President's visit came at the end of Ramadan, and it is usually at this time that the King dispenses favor to his subjects. Also, it must be remembered that the visit and the repatriation came on the day that the Kingdom was commemorating its 77thNational Day. The significance of this twin occasion precludes any political gimmick, as Migrante alleged.
The act of the Saudi monarch to dispense favor and assistance in the case of distressed nationals, or to grant leniency, reprieve and/or pardon in the case of prisoners at the end of Ramadan is customary. The help of the Saudis in getting the NOCs issued to the stranded OFWs was a gesture of goodwill and hospitality of the Saudis which the Philippine government appreciates. That it took the efforts and the representation of the President to obtain this favor for the stranded OFWs mirrors the respect and goodwill between the heads of state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Philippines , which value their strong diplomatic and socio-economic relations.