Vice President Jejomar C. Binay said that the government through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had already established contacts with 582 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Syria who want to be repatriated.
He added that the government already has an initial budget of US$550,000 to shoulder the expenses to be incurred in their repatriation. A standby fund is also in place, he added.
“Maganda dito alam na natin kung nasaan sila. Natunton na. Ang next na gagawin na lang natin is to negotiate,” Binay said in a press briefing at the Coconut Palace today.
Binay said establishing contact with these OFWs was already a big step since a large number of OFWs in Syria are undocumented domestics.
Acting DFA Secretary Esteban Conejos meanwhile said that they will send a 10-man Rapid Response Team to Syria to help negotiate with employers regarding the repatriation of their Filipino employees and facilitate the processing of travel documents. The government of Syria has a policy of not awarding exit visas without the consent of the employers, he said.
“Sa tingin natin dito may emergency sa Syria. Pero ang tingin nila lalo na sa Damascus normal lang ang buhay dun, tingin ng gobyerno nila at nung mga employers dun wala namang need for repatriation,” he added.
He aso said some Syrian employers are demanding higher compensation from the Philippine government before agreeing to the repatriation of their employees.
“Ang pinakamalaking problema natin sa ating repatriation sa Syria ay ang mga employers. Some of the employers are taking advantage of our repatriation efforts,” he said.
”Kami we are willing to go to as high as 3,000 dollars pero wag naman yung sobra,” Conejos added.
The government also has to deal with the collection of immigration penalties. Since most of OFWs in Syria are undocumented, they have incurred huge penalties, some up to three years.
However, Vice President Binay expressed optimism that the government can appeal to Syrian officials to lower the penalties. He also said that the government has a contingency fund available if needed.
“May nakahanda naman kaming backup na budget kung kakailanganin pero sana madala sa maayos na usapan at pababain ng Syria yung singil nila,” Binay said.
Philippine authorities had earlier raised the alert level in Syria to “3″ due to the violence there. Alert level 3 entails voluntary repatriation.#