PH rushing to repatriate remains of OFWs from Saudi by July 4

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 01 2020 02:42 PM | Updated as of Jul 01 2020 03:43 PM

MANILA -- The Philippines has to repatriate the remains of its citizens from Saudi Arabia by Saturday, July 4, otherwise, the corpses will be buried in the Middle Eastern country, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Wednesday.

The Department of Labor and Employment is rushing to work out the necessary documents to repatriate Filipino fatalities from Saudi Arabia, including those who died of COVID-19 to meet the kingdom's deadline.

"By July 4 eh dapat maiuwi natin yung ating minamahal na mga kababayan and we have to do that dahil kung hindi ililibing na po ng Saudi government yung ating mga kababayan," Bello said referring to the remains.

(We have to bring home the remains of our countrymen by July 4 otherwise the Saudi government will bury them there.)

Bello said there are 274 corpses in Saudi Arabia that need to be repatriated. Of these remains, Bello said 129 were COVID-19 patients.

DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido Dulay however said the chartered plane that DOLE is arranging may not be ready by July 4. Paper works may add to the delay. 

“The plan to bring home the cadavers will push through. The only issue now remaining is really the COVID-infected cadavers because Secretary Locsin has been consistent that we should bring our people home, COVID or not. But of course that is still being worked out with the Saudi Arabian government,” Dulay said in a virtual news forum of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay.

The Philippines initially rejected the repatriation of COVID-19 remains due to the "danger of transmission."

But families of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who died of COVID-19 decried this, prompting the labor chief to appeal for the repatriation.

"We are doing our best na ma-meet lahat yung requirements including yung health protocols, exit visa, lahat ng pahintulot ng employers at pahintulot ng next of kin (all the necessary permissions)," Bello said.

"We will try to bring them by July 4," he added.

As of June 30, there are 549 Filipinos abroad who have died of COVID-19 according to a report by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

- With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News