Gov’t agencies urged to fix delays in issuance of quarantine clearances for OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) — Several lawmakers on Friday urged the inter-agency body handling COVID-19 testing of returning overseas Filipino workers to address the reported bureaucratic delays in issuing clearances from quarantine facilities, leading to an excruciating wait for OFWs before they can go home to their families.

The solons said they have received numerous complaints from OFWs staying in their quarantine facilities for two months and counting, waiting for certification from the Philippine Coast Guard that they are are clear of COVID-19 and are allowed to go homes.

Over 9,100 OFWs are currently billeted in hotels and undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine. The usual process is they have to take an RT-PCR test. The Philippine Red Cross processes the swabs then sends the results to the Philippine Coast Guard, which issues the certificates of completion. But officials during an online hearing by the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs admitted that there have been delays in the issuance of medical clearances.

Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas said that prolonging their stay in these facilities will increase their risk of acquiring the coronavirus.

Marvin, a resource person in the hearing, said he arrived in the country on April 24 from Dubai. He said he took a test early May and already found out he tested negative, but he has to stay in his designated quarantine facility because he still hasn't received his certificate. He also claimed that unscrupulous personnel are also asking for P500 for the release of the COVID-19 test results from Philippine Red Cross.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite criticized the red tape in the agencies that are supposed to be taking care of the welfare of the OFWs.

"We are adding layers of bureaucracy. Ang dami nang nagrereklamo. Huwag natin lagyan ng napakaraming bureaucratic red tape na pinahihirapan pa natin ang OFWs na makalabas na. Nadi-distress na sila. Let us help, let us not be barriers to assisting our OFWs," he said.

[Translation: There are so many complaints. We are adding layers of bureaucracy. Let's end the bureaucratic red tape that is adding to the burden to OFWs. Let us help them and let us not be the barriers in assisting OFWs.]

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Administrator Hans Cacdac said they are addressing the issues. He added a new scheme is implemented in the PCG. Instead of waiting for a physical certificate, it will be made available online so the workers can print their own.

At least 28,000 overseas Filipinos have been repatriated to the country since the onset the pandemic. The Philippines is expecting up to 50,000 OFWs to come home this year.

CNN Philippines correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.