CLARK, PAMPANGA — Making good on its promise to send home Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) within five days or less upon their arrival in the country, the government has cleared 337 seafarers from Vancouver and Barbados who arrived at the Clark International Airport on June 6.
Members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, and several Central Luzon local chief executives were among the well-wishers present during the sendoff of the OFWs, who were swabbed and cleared of COVID-19 just within 72 hours after their arrival.
“Alinsunod po ito sa direktiba ni Pangulong Duterte na pangalagaan ang ating mga OFW. Nakikita po natin na mas mabilis na po ang proseso ngayon, and we will (further) systematize the operations, handling and management of the OFWs,” National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said.
The 337 OFWs are among the 345 repatriates who arrived at Clark on June 6. Among the 345, one tested positive, while seven others are still awaiting their test results.
Meanwhile, another batch of repatriates from the United Arab Emirates composed of 262 OFWs and Overseas Filipinos (OFs) arrived at Clark on June 5.
Of the 262 individuals, 258 tested negative using Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), three tested positive, while one is still awaiting results.
A total of 202 individuals out of the 258 who tested negative from the June 5 batch were already sent home on June 8. Fifty-seven more will be sent home on June 9.
The RT-PCR tests were processed at the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital (JBLMRH) in the nearby City of San Fernando, Pampanga.
Clark is also anticipating the opening of a Philippine National Red Cross testing laboratory in the area, which is expected to have a daily testing capacity of about 2,000.
Coupled with JBLMRH’s testing capacity of around 3,500 tests, Clark will soon raise its testing capacity to around 5,000, Galvez said.
The OFWs who were released from Clark may still undergo quarantine at their final destinations, depending on the guidelines set by their respective local government units (LGU)s, according to Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año.
“Binigyan natin sila ng discretion (LGUs), depende sa sitwasyon nila. Lalo na ‘yung mga talagang zero cases sa kanilang mga probinsya like island provinces. Now, katulad ‘nung ngayon, three days lang (ang quarantine) ang pinaka-ideal d’yan, pagdating doon (sa target destination) ay home quarantine na lang sila,” Año said.
“Ang ating mga LGU ay very protective sa kanilang constituents. We commend the LGUs because they are trying their best na hindi sila magkaroon ng COVID infection from our OFWs,” Galvez noted.
He assured LGUs that they have nothing to fear from incoming OFWs, because safeguards have been put in place by the government to ensure the safety not only of the repatriates, but also of the receiving provinces.
“Huwag tayong matakot sa ating mga OFWs na maging carrier (ng COVID-19) kasi inaayos po natin ang paghandle sa kanila. Saka maliit ang positivity rate (among them), katulad dito sa Clark na less than 0.8%, so ibig sabihin in 100 (people), wala pang isa ang positive,” Galvez said.
The speedy quarantine procedures for OFWs at Clark is part of the government’s strategy to decongest airport terminals and quarantine facilities in Metro Manila, and to hasten the reunion of OFWs with their loved ones at home.
“Once we set up more testing centers in our other airports across the country, we can have direct flights to these gateways, para hindi na tayo magkaroon ng double handling (ng cases). Diretso na doon sa destinations nila,” Galvez explained.
The chief implementer also announced that the government is currently working on computerizing the data of incoming OFWs, for more effective contact tracing, among others.
“Doon sa mga camera sa (NAIA) Terminal 2, doon na (lalabas) lahat ng data (ng OFWs). And that data can also be accessed by testing centers,” Galvez said.
A test run of the said electronic data system is scheduled on June 12, he added.
To further expedite the quarantine protocols for returning OFWs, e-copies of their quarantine certificates will soon be made available and can be accessed via mobile phones.
Economic plan for OFWs
Meanwhile, the IATF has already allowed the deployment of seafarers abroad, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
For other OFWs who would not be able to return to their jobs abroad, Bello said the government is ready to assist them.
“Mayroong programa ang OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), ‘yung ‘National Reintegration Program.’ Unang benefit niyan, immediate cash assistance. Pangalawa, livelihood assistance. Pangatlo, education assistance,” Bello said.
Also present during the sendoff ceremony held at the Quest Hotel in Clark were: Health Secretary Francisco Duque III; Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque; NAP against COVID-19 Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon; Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade; OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac; Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rolando Bautista; MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad; Clark Development Corporation President and CEO Noel Manankil; Clark Development Corporation Chairman Jose Ping de Jesus; Defense Undersecretary Cesar B. Yano; Pampanga Governor Dennis Pineda; Tarlac Governor Susan Yap; Mabalacat City, Pampanga Mayor Crisostomo Garbo; Porac, Pampanga Mayor Jaime Capil; Capas, Tarlac Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan; Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Jose Antonio Feliciano; Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos; Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) Director, Dr. Obet Salvador; Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) Commander Lt. Gen. Ramiro Rey; Luzon International Premiere Airport Development (LIPAD) Corporation President Bi Yong Chugungco; JBLMRH Medical Chief, Dr. Monserrat Chichioco II; OWWA Central Luzon Regional Director Esperanza Cobarrubias, and; BOQ Clark Head, Dr. Vic Saldivar.