MANILA - Limited flights due to lockdowns imposed in Saudi Arabia in the past months led to the delay in repatriation of Filipinos who have died in the kingdom, Philippine Ambassador Adnan Alonto said Monday.
Some 353 remains of Filipinos in Saudi are for disposition, of which 107 are COVID-19 deaths, Alonto said after the Philippine government announced on Sunday that Saudi authorities gave Manila only 72 hours for the repatriation of the cadavers.
Most of the fatalities died due to "natural causes," Alonto said as Malacañang noted the high number of Filipinos in the Kingdom.
"Nung nagkaroon tayo ng almost 3 months na lockdown dito, walang gumagalaw. Walang lumilipad so nagkaroon tayo ng backlog, 'yun po largely ang naging cause. Even up to now, the flights are limited," Alonto said.
(When there was an almost 3-month lockdown here in Saudi, nothing was moving. There were no flights so that largely caused the backlog.)
Saudi Arabia is one of the top destinations for overseas Filipino workers and has the largest Filipino population in the Middle East with about 1 million.
For the COVID-19 fatalities, the Philippines had said that it would opt to bury the remains there.
Alonto added that commercial flights can only accommodate 3 remains for repatriation which led to the backlog.
For the repatriation of cadavers, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines is preparing 3 chartered planes as it sought a longer timeframe from Saudi authorities.
"Magchacharter po ang gobyerno ng 3 eroplano para mauwi '22yung 200 plus na mga labi ng ating mga kababayan," Roque said.
(The government will charter 3 planes for the repatriation of more than 200 Filipinos who have died there.)