Filipino seafarer | Photo by Maxime Felder via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY SA 3.0
There is absolutely no doubt that if there is anyone who has suffered from this pandemic and sacrificed a lot for this country in so many ways, the overseas Filipino worker is enduring the heartache of being separated from loved ones for very long periods.
Before assuming my post as ambassador to the United States, the President’s marching orders were to see to it that the welfare and interest of our OFWs are attended to and, more importantly, that their rights are protected. I am very well aware of the sacrifices that an OFW has to make, mainly for the welfare and benefit of his family, but ultimately – for the country.
During the first few months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw firsthand the anguish, distress, and depression that Filipino seafarers had to go through because of repatriation problems. Close to 85,000 Filipinos were working in cruise ships based out of Florida and the Caribbean, but COVID-19 caused unprecedented disruption on the cruise industry. The impact was devastating: passengers were stranded, cruise ships were refused entry to ports, borders started to close. Filipino cruise industry workers – who comprise about one-third of the global industry – were forced to go on leave and go home.
“…the President’s marching orders were to see to it that the welfare and interest of our OFWs are attended to and, more importantly, that their rights are protected. I am very well aware of the sacrifices that an OFW has to make, mainly for the welfare and benefit of his family, but ultimately – for the country.”
We set in motion the immediate repatriation of our seafarers, finally convincing cruise liners to bring their ships to the Philippines for more accessible transport of our OFWs in large numbers. The procedure took long because of the sheer number of returning OFWs. Arriving in Manila Bay after one month, the seafarers had to endure additional months on the ships for processing, testing, and quarantine. One can only imagine the frustration and depression that they were going through – so much so that one of them killed himself while two others died while waiting for a negative COVID-19 test result.
When the Taliban overtook Afghanistan, we assisted in the repatriation of OFWs, coordinating with our friends at the US Pentagon to secure the necessary flight clearances for the Philippines’ repatriation effort. The world saw how chaotic the situation was in Kabul, with Afghans desperately trying to flee their country. One can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been for Filipinos and other foreign workers who also feared for their lives.
There is absolutely no question that the creation of the Department of Migrant Workers is the right thing to do for our OFWs to address the issues and problems that hound them, such as red tape, illegal recruiters, and emergency assistance when they are in distressful situations in host countries. The DMW, which will have offices in every region in the country, will serve as a one-stop shop. It would streamline processes to integrate different government agencies that deal with OFW concerns. Such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the International Labor Affairs Bureau of the Department of Labor and Employment, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices, and other similar agencies.
I can say this, Filipino overseas workers are highly appreciated and preferred by foreign employers because they are hardworking, reliable, and are really good at what they do. These “modern-day heroes” are our major asset. Even during this pandemic, they continue to step up. They have been a strong pillar of the economy because of their remittances. According to the latest report from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, it grew by 5.4 percent from January-October 2021 to $28.82 billion – with remittances coming from the US accounting for 40.9 percent emerging as the major source of remittances.
On the other side of the coin, there are also other Filipino heroes – wealthy individuals who have done so much in assisting people and helping the country during this pandemic. They are businessmen and top executives of some of the biggest companies in the country who came to aid victims of calamities and disasters, the most recent of which was Typhoon Odette that killed over 400 people and whose damage to agriculture was estimated at P11.5 billion. We have the SM group headed by Tessie Sy-Coson, SMC’s Ramon Ang and Manny Pangilinan, and countless others who utilized their resources to assist displaced families.
“These “modern-day heroes” are our major asset. Even during this pandemic, they continue to step up. They have been a strong pillar of the economy because of their remittances. According to the latest report from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, it grew by 5.4 percent from January-October 2021 to $28.82 billion – with remittances coming from the US accounting for 40.9 percent emerging as the major source of remittances.”
One individual who has done more than expected, quietly doing his part to help Filipinos without fanfare, is a tycoon who I know hates publicity. His Manila Water Foundation sent truckloads of drinking water and hygiene products to communities battered by Typhoon Odette. Aside from linemen and engineers, his Group also deployed a boat to hasten power restoration efforts, with electricity restored in 18 hours. However, what stands out for many Filipinos is the tycoon’s efforts in helping the government manage the pandemic situation through his Foundation. In particular, the purchase of Moderna vaccines, the construction of quarantine facilities, and vaccination rollouts through the Nayong Pilipino Foundation Drive Through and another vaccination center in Parañaque City.
With the Omicron variant now present in the Philippines and daily cases surging again, fully vaccinated Filipinos are genuinely grateful for the businessman’s Foundation’s help. I know this tycoon hates publicity, even having PR people in his employ to make sure that his name is kept out of the limelight as much as possible.
I must admit there are many more Filipinos helping their fellowmen out of the goodness of their hearts, not thinking of profit but simply following the Lord’s teachings.
“Blessed are they who help those in need, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”