Philippines temporarily suspends deployment of OFWs to Saudi Arabia

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 28 2021 12:38 PM | Updated as of May 28 2021 01:05 PM

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Scores of overseas Filipino workers bound for Saudi Arabia were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday after the Philippine government suspended deployment to the Arab state until further notice. 

A memorandum issued by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III instructed the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to temporarily suspend the deployment of OFWs to Saudi Arabia following reports that "departing OFWs are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocol for COVID-19 and insurance coverage premium upon their entry in the Kingdom."

It said the labor department will issue an official statement on the resumption of deployment to Saudi Arabia after the matter has been clarified. 

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Bello earlier said OFWs who have been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines from China are allowed to enter Saudi Arabia but will still undergo quarantine once they arrive in the host country. This, following social media posts claiming that Riyadh will not allow entry of travelers inoculated with China-made vaccines such as Sinopharm and Sinovac.

“OFWs that have been vaccinated, for example by Sinovac, they will be quarantined, the usual and then they can stay,” he said in a virtual forum, as quoted by the Philippine News Agency.

Passengers at the airport were caught flatfooted when airlines denied them for check in at the counter. Many of the OFWs do not reside in Manila and lack money for expenses, they said. 

Myla Miranda, an OFW stranded at the NAIA, said she was only on emergency leave in the Philippines after her son died. She said the POEA told her that her flight was canceled because of the DOLE order. 

Michael, another OFW who works for a bank in Riyadh, called the DOLE order "the worst decision", noting that he could lose his job if he does not return.

"Yung mga nagbayad na ngayon, makakansela lahat yun. Hindi mare-refund yun. Kagaya namin yung visa na malapit na mag-expire. Paano ang gagawin namin kapag hindi rinefund, kapag hindi rinenew ng kumpanya?" he said in an interview. 

"Sino kami sa Saudi kung hindi kami makabalik agad-agad? Sisipain kami na parang aso," he added. 

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A POEA official from the labor assistance office confirmed deployment of OFWs to Saudi Arabia has been suspended, saying the agency is now in contact with OWWA to help the stranded OFWs. 

With reports by Raoul Esperas and Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News