NOTE: This story was first published in The Bohol Chronicle’s Sunday print edition.
Alarm and concern on the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia reached the halls of Congress last Friday while a Covid positive Boholana worker was saved after being assisted by the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia .
RP Ambassador Adnan V. Alonto confirmed the death of 132 Filipino OFWs in Saudi Arabia alone. They are among the 658 Covid positive Pinoy workers confirmed by health authorities.
The ambassador, during a zoom conference last Friday reported that the Philippine Embassy immediately took action on a complaint filed by a Boholana OFW who was crying helplessly when interviewed over dyRD last Tuesday.
She narrated that she could not avail of any medical assistance, not even an ambulance to bring her to the nearest hospital in Riyadh.
She sent a message to station dyRD’s “Patrol Balita” anchored by AtoyCosap seeking help from any government official.
Rep. Edgar Chatto, who maintains an OFW Desk since 1995, immediately relayed the sad plight of the Boholana OFW to Usec. Sarah Arriola, head of the Office of Migrant Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila who called Ambassador Alonto in Riyadh.
The Philippine Embassy contacted Riyadh Emergency 937 to bring the patient to the nearest hospital. The employer which extended assistance to the worker was contacted by Ambassador Alonto.
As of last night, the family of the contract worker confirmed to the Chronicle that she was already out of the hospital.
Ambassador Alonto narrated the sad plight of Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia since it is only the Ministry of Health who can pick up suspected Covid patients.
The alarm on the present situation in Saudi Arabia surfaced as the country has the most number of Filipino contract workers reaching to 88,000 followed by the United Arab Emirates with 50,000 Filipino workers, Lebanon 15,000; Qatar 4,000 and Nigeria, 1,147.
Present medical records showed 1,428 deaths in Saudi Arabia while a total of 170,000 are afflicted with the virus, 117,000 or 60% have recovered.
Rep. Chatto sounded off the alarm during a zoom-hearing of the House committee on Public Accounts which tackled the government approach in its migration policy response to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Rep. Mike Defensor, who chairs the committee sought the reactions of the Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello, DFA UsecArriola , Ambassador Alonto on the assistance extended to the Boholana contract worker.
SAUDI SAD TALES
OFWs in Saudi Arabia are stuck in their homes- including those suspected of Covid 19 – as no civilians are allowed to ferry patients to the hospitals.
The contract workers who are not being extended financial assistance by their employers are seeking help for survival. In fact some of them are selling blood to hospitals for a living.
Ambassador Alonto said that as much the Philippine government wants to fly them back to the country, there are not many available commercial flights. As of last report two cargo planes will be sent this week to start bringing home the migrant workers at the government expense of P13 million per trip.
The RP Embassy in Riyadh will start this week on-line talks by Filipino doctors as part of the “self help measures” of the government for the workers who can not reach the hospitals for consultations and treatment.
“Fever Clinics” will open soon in Riyadh in order to accommodate those who are having coughs, cold and other symptoms of Covid 19, instead of bringing them to the hospitals where they will be exposed to Covid patients.
Rep, Chatto, during the hearing sounded the appeal to check on the policy where families of OFWs should not be excluded in the distribution of the Social Amelioration Fund of P6,000 per person.
Families of OFWs complained why they are excluded when their “bread winner” has become jobless amidst the pandemic.
The Boholanosolon reminded DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello of the agency’s “AbotKamayPatulong” AKAP program where OFWs who lost jobs should be extended $200 cash assistance.
Sec. Bello said every OFW should avail of the AKAP program while RP embassies will give food assistance and medical support to those who do not have employers attending to their needs.
The DOLE secretary said there are pending OFW cases seeking help in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar, Sweden and Taiwan, aside those from Saudi Arabia.
An OFW assistance desk has been assisting contract workers since 1995 when Chatto was then vice governor of the province.
In 2001, he opened the OFW Desk at his district office and institutionalized the operations of the desk when he became Bohol governor in 2010. The desk is attached with the Bohol Employment & Placement Office (BEMO).
Under the present set-up, desk officer Leah Sumampong is manning the operation in coordination with BEPO head VilmaYurong.
It maybe noted that Bohol is one of the provinces with the most number of contract workers abroad.
Several cases of distress OFWs have been extended assistance by the OFW Desk.