Remains of 49 OFWs arrive from Saudi Arabia

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) — The remains of 49 overseas Filipino workers who have died of COVID-19 and other natural causes in Saudi Arabia were flown home on Friday. Over 200 more are set to be brought home in the coming days.

The cargo plane carrying the bodies of 32 OFWs from Dammam and 17 from Riyadh arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 10:30 a.m. Twenty of them died of COVID-19.

The bodies were transported to the Villamor Airbase, where the caskets were disinfected upon arrival. Several government officials were waiting with a short and somber program.

Defense Secretary and National Task Force on COVID-19 chairman Delfin Lorenzana recognized and thanked the OFWs for their sacrifices and contributions.

"Ang nais natin sana para sa OFWs ay ang mainit na pagbati ng 'Maligayang pagdating!' sa lupang sinilangan. Ngunit sa malungkot na pagkakataong ito, maraming salamat at paalam sa inyo, aming mga kababayan," he said.

[Translation: We want to give a warm welcome to our OFWs. But in this instance, we will send our gratitude and good bye to our fellow Filipinos.]

After the ceremonial blessing and short speech, they were brought to the crematoriums, where their families are waiting. The cost for cremation will be shouldered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The repatriation of 274 OFWs in Saudi Arabia is being done in batches as each charter flight can only accommodate around 40 caskets. 

The Labor Department was given until July 4 to bring back all OFWs who died in the Gulf state. But their return was delayed due to documentary requirements and other health protocols amid the COVID-19 crisis.

"We sincerely apologize for the much-delayed homecoming owing to the lockdowns, and strenuous processes that we have to undergo for their return," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement on Friday. "The added anxiety to the families caused by the suspended homeward journey is certainly undeserved."