OFW ADVOCATE. ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz wants the government to do all that it can to help stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Advocates for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) called on the Philippine government to complete the master list of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia to ensure the assistance that has been promised to them.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Wednesday, August 10, that Saudi Arabia King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud has pledged to help thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
This includes waiving immigration penalties due to their expired working visas, plane fare back to the Philippines, food aid, and assistance for re-employment and legal services.
But on Thursday, ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz expressed concern that the assistance may not immediately be given because there is no complete record of the OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia and there is not enough manpower. (READ: What delays aid for 11,000 stranded OFWs in Saudi?)
"Kasi ang OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) rin 'di nila alam 'yung laman ng list. Ang list naman ng POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) ay 8,000 lang, pero sa lista ng DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) around 11,000," said Bertiz at the Usaping Balita Media Forum at the Serye Cafe Filipino in Quezon City.
(OWWA doesn't know how many people are on the list. The POEA's list has 8,000, but the DFA listed around 11,000.)
Longtime OFW advocate Susan Ople also said this lack of a unified and accurate master list could be detrimental to the stranded OFWs.
"Oras na hiningi ng Saudi Arabia ang listahan ng lahat ng stranded na OFWs, ang pangamba namin baka hindi tayo handa kasi ngayon pa lang, iba-iba 'yung mga figures na binibigay," said Ople.
(Once Saudi Arabia asks for the list of OFWs, my worry is that we may not be ready because as of now, we're giving different figures.)
"Hindi lang kasi 'yung stranded workers ang tutulungan ng hari kundi lahat ng nationalities – 'yung Indians, 'yung Pakistanis. Halo-halo na 'yan. So depende 'yan kung sino ang pinaka-organized na bansa at pamahalaan na maaaring magbigay agad ng tamang impormasyon," she added.
(Our stranded workers are not the only ones the king would be helping – he will help other nationalities like the Indians and the Pakistanis. It's a mix. So the giving of aid might depend on which country and government can immediately give the right information.)
Both Bertiz and Ople agreed that the DFA should take the lead in helping and repatriating the stranded OFWs.
Representatives from the DFA, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Health, and Department of Social Welfare and Development flew to Saudi Arabia on August 10 for a month-long intervention for the stranded OFWs.
Thanking Saudi, providing jobs in PH
Bertiz already filed a House resolution extending the Philippine government's gratitude to Salman for his "generous help" to OFWs in Saudi Arabia.
"The royal decree of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia removes any and all stumbling blocks to the mass repatriation of our stranded Filipino workers, which shall now be carried out at the expense of the Saudi government," read his resolution.
Ople, meanwhile, urged the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of Energy (DOE) to consider opening jobs for the OFWs once they return home.
"'Yung mga stranded sa Saudi, 'yun 'yung mga magagaling nating engineers. Ito 'yung mga magagaling natin na construction workers kasi nagtatrabaho sila sa pinaka-major na construction conglomerates sa Saudi Arabia," said Ople, calling them "among the best of the best."
(Those stranded in Saudi are our highly skilled engineers. They are the highly skilled construction workers because they worked in major construction conglomerates in Saudi Arabia.)
"So ang recommendation ng [Blas F] Ople [Training] Center [and Policy Institute] [ay] baka naman puwedeng tignan ng DPWH, ng DOTr, at pati ng Department of Energy, kapag may mga trabaho na puwedeng buksan, kung saan puwedeng i-tap 'yung talents at 'yung exposure ng mga stranded OFWS sa bago at modernong paraan sa pagpapatayo ng gusali," added Ople, who heads the Ople Center.
(So the recommendation of the Blas F Ople Training Center and Policy Institute is for the DPWH, DOTr, and the Department of Energy to open jobs that can tap the talents and exposure of the stranded OFWs. They can help put up modern buildings.) – Rappler.com