Senator Risa Hontiveros today urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to immediately address the food and health needs of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) waiting for their flights back to their home provinces, after reports showed that many OFWs stuck at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) were not provided with food, water and other basic services.
“Our Overseas Filipino Workers, as modern-day heroes, deserve to be treated better. Huwag naman sana hayaan ng pamahalaan na pagkatapos ng kalbaryo sa mandatory quarantine, ay maharap pa sa gutom, pagod at buong araw na pila ang mga OFW para lang makauwi sila sa kanilang mga pamilya,” she said.
Hontiveros made her call after a number of OFWs complained about the lack of assistance of OWWA and other government agencies to OFWs forced to wait for long hours at the NAIA Terminal 2 just to fly home to their provinces. The OFWs, who have finished weeks of mandatory quarantine upon returning to the country, were not provided ample meals or water, and were stationed in hot, uncomfortable areas in the airport as they waited for nearly 24 hours for available flights. A female OFW even reportedly collapsed while at the terminal, due to heat, hunger and exhaustion.
She said that OWWA and other agencies handling the transport of OFWs under the ‘Balik Probinsiya’ program should closely coordinate with airport officials to provide for the basic needs of OFWs now being dropped off at NAIA and other airports for their flights. “Naiintindihan natin na medyo limitado ang mga flights ngayon kaya may congestion, pero siguro naman ay kaya ng OWWA na magorganisa ng pagbigay ng sapat na pagkain at tubig para sa mga OFW habang sila ay naghihintay sa paliparan,” she said.
She added that the Department of Health and other agencies should ensure that vulnerable passengers like the elderly, pregnant women, and newly-born children will have separate holding areas to better protect them from health risks, as she noted that some pregnant OFWs have lined up in the airport despite the danger posed to their health.
Citing the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)’s recent recommendations, Hontiveros said that government should immediately review the capacity of NAIA Terminal 2’s holding areas and study how the airport could shorten waiting time for OFWs, provide more buses to ferry stranded OFWs, and ensure the faster release of COVID-19 test results for OFWs staying in quarantine centers.
“If government fails to act, this problem at the airports will only worsen given that 42,000 more OFWs are set to return to the country in the months ahead. We should implement comprehensive solutions that will allow our OFWs to safely return to their loved ones at the soonest time possible,” she said.