BEIRUT, LEBANON - Thirty-seven distressed OFWs who stayed at the Philippine embassy's Filipino Workers Resource Center in Lebanon are finally coming home on Saturday afternoon.
Like many OFWs, Charina Talotalo is excited to see her family. But she plans to make a stop first at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) office.
"Uuwi muna ako sa OWWA, hihingi ako ng tulong, Yung program nila na Balik–Pinay, Balik-Hanapbuhay. So kahit papaano na wala kaming dala, buhay kami at meron kaming pagsisimulan sa Pilipinas gawa na rin ng tulong ng embassy, ng OWWA, ng POLO. Maraming, maraming salamat. Malaking bagay para sa amin ito, sabay-sabay kaming umuwi. Kahit papaano, natanggalan yung 50 percent ng buhay namin na nag–lose kami ng income, pero may 50 percent na bumangon kami uli,” she shared.
This is the largest batch of distressed OFWs since 2012, according to Ambassador Leah Ruiz.
With the help of the Lebanese General Security and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, the processing of their travel documents was expedited.
"We really received excellent cooperation from the Lebanese General Security or immigration. They agreed to waive the penalties, the fees that are supposed to be paid for overstaying. They also agreed to waive the investigation. So that's very important, because those are the things that sometimes delay the repatriation of our workers here," Ruiz said.
She added, "We were able to also get funding support from Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center. So for all of them, their tickets were provided by Caritas."
The embassy hopes to provide similar speedy repatriation for future batches, through the continued cooperation of the General Security and Caritas.
Meanwhile, the embassy is jumpstarting negotiations for the standardized employment contract for OFWs in Lebanon. The contract stipulates the rights and protection of OFWs, including salary and work hours.
"Dito namin na-feel yung hirap ng buhay na mangibang-bansa. Kahit papaano yung embassy ng Pilipinas dito sa Lebanon tinulungan nila kami na lumaban, hindi kami mawalan ng pag-asa," said Bernadeth Dela Cruz.
Despite the 2013 and January 2, 2014 bombings, Ruiz stressed that these will not stall the negotiations. The embassy is determined to pursue with the negotiations for the standardized employment contract.
"These are all security issues that we have to contend with. And that is why we are closely monitoring the situation and we are constantly updating and advising our workers here. But from our point of view, the discussions have to continue so that, hopefully, when the situation becomes better, then both sides can readily implement already what has been agreed upon," she said.
The repatriates are set to arrive in Manila at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.