OFWs stranded for weeks due to slow testing, clearance

MAY 25, 2020

On Monday, May 25, President Rodrigo Duterte directed the Department of Labor and Employment, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Health one week to let 24,000 overseas Filipino workers waiting in Metro Manila go home within a week.

The workers have been in the capital region for weeks, with some waiting over a month, because their COVID-19 results and clearances have not come in yet. Some have reported anxiety and depression as they grapple with isolation and uncertainty about their financial future.

Since April 13, returning OFWs have been required to undergo mandatory quarantine inside government facilities, meaning hotels and other accommodations accredited by the Department of Tourism. Since April 27, returning OFWs were required to undergo RT-PCR tests.

Since May 6, the government has identified the need to prioritize testing for some 20,000 quarantined OFWs. Nearly three weeks later, thousands remain in quarantine.

If unresolved, the problem figures to worsen through June, where some 40,000 more OFWs are expected to return. Sec. Carlito Galvez, who heads the national task force on COVID-19 response, has said that this could overwhelm the country's current quarantine facilities.

Here is a timeline of GMA News and Public Affairs' reporting on the issue.

APRIL 27, 2020


Nearly 20,000 OFWs have been repatriated since the start of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, the Department of Foreign Affairs reports.

MAY 1, 2020


The Philippine Red Cross says it aims to test around 20,000 returning overseas Filipino workers in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

MAY 6, 2020


National Task Force COVID-19 chief implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. says OFWs will be prioritized in mass testing efforts by the government.

MAY 7, 2020


OFWs in a facility in Pasay City are getting restless after they have been stuck for weeks, even after completing their 14-day quarantine.

“Sabi lang nila maghintay, maghintay, at nang maghintay. So hanggang kailan kami maghihintay? Hanggang katapusan?” one OFW said.

OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac explained they could not say for sure when the OFWs could go home because it was the Philippine Coast Guard that was in charge of the testing.

MAY 11, 2020

14,000 TESTED

In President Rodrigo Duterte's seventh weekly report to Congress, he says more than 14,000 repatriated OFWs have so far undergone testing for COVID-19 upon return to the country.

A total of 6,911 of these repatriated OFWs were tested from May 1 to May 7, the report added. COVID-19 tests have also been administered to 8,029 OFWs quarantined in hotels and to 1,936 OFWs quarantined in cruise ships since April 23, the report said.

MAY 13, 2020


After waiting for almost three weeks, OFWs quarantined on cruise ships will finally be tested.

Over 8,000 Filipinos have been awaiting clearances in 22 cruise ships anchored at Manila Bay. Out of the 22, only 14 cruise ships have been tested for the disease, with only around 5,000 out of the 8,000 Filipinos having undergone the swab test.

MAY 14, 2020


The Philippine Coast Guard says up to 18,000 OFWs are stranded in Metro Manila as local government units of their origin refused to accept them amid the COVID-19 threat.

So far, BOQ has released 6,000 certificates of COVID-19 results of some OFWs, according to PCG commandant Admiral Joel Garcia.

MAY 17, 2020


Some repatriated OFWs who later turned out to be positive for COVID-19 have escaped from quarantine facilities, the Philippine Coast guard says.

PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo encourages OFWs to be patient in waiting for their COVID-19 test results, saying the PCG is already working with the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) for faster release of test results.

Meanwhile, cleared OFWs will be allowed to board ships bound for Visayas and Mindanao. The OFWs must have certificates from the Philippine Red Cross and quarantine clearances to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 using the RT-PCR testing administered by the Sub-Task Group for the Repatriation of OFWs.

MAY 18, 2020


About 27,000 OFWs, including 8,000 crew members of cruise ships currently docked at Manila Bay, are still waiting for their results of COVID-19 swab test.

Meanwhile, the OWWA says an OFW who escaped from quarantine has already been located.

MAY 19, 2020


A pregnant OFW is nearing her due date while in quarantine, with her test results still unavailable.

Meanwhile, an OFW who escaped quarantine has been placed under DOH custody. He and his other fellow OFWs are facing charges.

Malacañang asks OWWA for an inventory of the number of OFWs remaining in quarantine facilities.

MAY 20, 2020


Problems with encoding are delaying the release of test results for OFWs, according to the DOH.

Malacañang says 13,000 OFWs will be sent home after tests.

The government expects some 42,000 more OFWs arriving in May and June, which could overwhelm quarantine facilities.

MAY 21, 2020


A Filipino husband and wife who are both crew members of a cruise ship floating along the waters of Manila Bay lament being "so near yet so far" from each other while they are under quarantine.

They take to waving to each other through the balcony of the ship to ease their loneliness.

Meanwhile, the OWWA is asking for an additional P250 million in funds for returning OFWs.

Migrante International, for its part, hit out at the government for criminalizing OFWs who escape from quarantine facilities, accusing the government of neglect.

MAY 23, 2020


Among the 160 overseas Filipino workers who had been quarantined for over a month in Pasay despite testing negative for COVID-19, there was a growing fear that their isolation was causing them to fall into a deep depression.

OFW Shirley says she was growing restless, especially upon finding that she was negative for the virus. On April 26, Shirley's companion OFW from Kuwait committed suicide due to financial problems.

Other OFWs in the Pasay facility could not understand why matters were moving so slowly. The were only given a swab test on May 7, a month after arriving at the facility on April 4.

Their test results finally came out negative last week, but the OFWs were still not allowed to go home due to a lack of certification. However, to their confusion and frustration, some had been allowed to leave.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III says the government will try to expedite the release of the test results of OFWs so they won't have to overstay in isolation.

MAY 25, 2020


President Rodrigo Duterte gives the DOLE, the OWWA and the DOH one week to let 24,000 overseas Filipino workers waiting in Manila go home.

DOLE Silvestre Bello III says they will not let a week pass before sending the the OFWs home.

Meanwhile, the OWWA says eight of 100 pregnant OFWs have given birth while in quarantine.