KIMBERLY JANE TAN and RONALDO CONCHA, GMANews.TV
09/24/2009 | 08:09 PM
It was the efforts of President Macapagal Arroyo that paved the way for the repatriation of 120 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from Saudi Arabia, Malacañang said Thursday.
Deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo issued the statement after the group Migrante International accused the President of “taking credit" for the repatriation of 120 OFWs from the Kingdom to supposedly “improve" her image.
Mrs. Arroyo addresses a gathering of Filipinos in Alkhobar on Tuesday. She said that the protection of OFWs was her primary reason for her visit. - Ronaldo Concha“If the President did not ask for the speedy repatriation of the OFWs, maybe they could not go home. It would be unfair for Migrante to accuse the President," said Fajardo.
She said Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to Saudi Arabia early this week was very important because only the President can ask the Kingdom’s government to speed up the immigration procedures of the 120 OFWs.
Saudi Arabia is the last leg of Mrs. Arroyo’s three-nation foreign trip. She went to the Kingdom after visiting Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Her foreign trips, said the President, was for the “protection for OFWs."
But Fajardo said that the President was not “stealing the limelight" from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) – the government agency tasked to repatriate distressed OFWs.
“It was the OWWA that asked the President to include this in her agenda when she goes to Saudi Arabia. I just spoke to (OWWA) Administrator (Carmelita) Dimzon earlier and she said she is very grateful and happy that (Arroyo) visited (Saudi Arabia) because the repatriation of the OFWs was fast-tracked," she said.
Fajardo said most of the workers were runaways, meaning they left their employers for reasons like undesirable working conditions and abuse.
In Jeddah, OWWA administration staff Anthony Basil said most of these workers were runaways from Riyadh and the Eastern Province.
But instead of seeking help from the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Alkhobar, many of the workers opted to travel to Jeddah in hopes of being sent home for free by Saudi authorities through a deportation process.
Some of them even lived under the Khandara overpass, along with other nationals such as Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, who are also trying to attract the attention of Saudi police so that they would be brought to their countries.
During Mrs. Arroyo’s speech before the Filipino community in Saudi Arabia, she said she expects that the remaining stranded workers in the deportation center will also be sent home once they have settled their disputes with their employers.
She also said that she has already tasked the Department of Labor and Employer (DOLE) to institute the reforms in the employment of household service workers.
“Ipinaalala ko sa DOLE na ipatupad nang husto ang ating mga repormang ginawa upang makapagbigay sa ating mga household worker ng higit na proteksyon (I reminded the DOLE to execute the reforms meant to give household workers more protection)," said Arroyo.
Included in these reforms, she said, is the increase of the salary of household service workers from $200 to $400.
The Filipino community in Saudi Arabia is estimated to have reached 1.2 million last year and the figure continues to increase. It is also still the top destination among overseas Filipino workers, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed. - GMANews.TV