Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday said he has recalled the Philippine labor attachés in Riyadh and Jeddah over their alleged inaction on the plight of stranded and retrenched Filipino workers there.
Interviewed hours before he flew to Riyadh to personally see the situation of distressed OFWs there, Bello said he was disappointed with how the two officials addressed the plight of some 11,000 OFWs stranded either because their iqamas had expired or they are waiting for their unpaid wages from their former employers.
"In cases like this, immediate assistance should be extended. Walang mga keme-keme, mga requirements, pera nila yan and they need it very badly," said Bello.
Bello said he'd go to Saudi Arabia to see the situation there "first hand" and extend necessary assistance. "I want to go personally at the same time extend short-term assistance like food and medical," he said.
Bello did not identify the two labor attachés.
But according to Jun Rasul, Philippine labor attaché in Jeddah, he is ready to follow Bello's order and end his tour of duty there. He, however, denied that he was remiss in his duties.
Atoy Esguerra, vice chairman of Kaagapay ng Bawat OFW Advocacy Group, also belied Bello's allegation of inaction on the part of Philippine officials there.
"Parang hindi ako makapaniwala na nangyari ang ganon kasi ako mismo ay nakaka-witness sa ginagawa ng mga officials dito at kasa-kasama kami sa pagbisita at pagdala ng mga pagkain sa mga kababayan natin," he said.
Rasul, meanwhile, said he welcomes Bello's decision to visit Saudi Arabia. He said he himself will go to Riyadh for Bello's arrival.
"We welcome the decision of Secretary Bello visit to KSA to meet his counterpart and we hope he can do something to resolve the problems of our kababayan in the kingdom," he said.
Bello, in Manila, said he had already spoken with Overseas Workers Welfare Administration officials to check specific financial assistance they can immediately disperse to assist the affected OFWs.
Bello said he will speak with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay to discuss possible arrangements with the concerned companies in Saudi Arabia so that OFWs with expired iqamas can be sent home while their unpaid wages and benefits can be given at the same time.
Although Bello said it will take some time to solve all of the concerns that is expected to be raised in his visit, he said one of his primary goals is to repatriate as many OFWs in Saudi Arabia as possible.
"Yun ang pupuntahan ko na dun, how soon we can repatriate them. With respect to those who insist on staying we have to just consider how we can help them while we continue to stay there and wait for a possible re employment," he said. —with Ronaldo Concha/KBK, GMA News