The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has spotlighted the urgency of a new and highly responsive executive department for Filipinos overseas, the ACTS-OFW Coalition of Organizations said Wednesday.

“We’ve seen how the government has been overwhelmed by the coinciding pleas for help from distressed Filipino workers both here at home and abroad, leaving many of those overseas abandoned and neglected,” ACTS-OFW chairman Aniceto Bertiz III.

“A new singled-minded Department of Overseas Filipinos can deliver superior services to our citizens abroad faster.”

“Up to now, we still have thousands of displaced Filipino workers marooned in foreign lands with little to zero access to emergency assistance,” Bertiz said.

“There’s no question a new singled-minded Department of Overseas Filipinos can deliver superior services to our citizens abroad faster,” Bertiz, a former member of Congress, said.

The separate new Department of Overseas Filipinos would also enable the Department of Labor and Employment to focus on domestic unemployment assistance, skills retooling and jobs creation, Bertiz pointed out.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had asked Congress to pass the bill creating a new Department of Overseas Filipinos in his 2019 State of the Nation Address.

Amid the pandemic, the government has been scrambling sweeper flights to bring home thousands of Filipinos stranded overseas as countries locked themselves down and banned foreign air travel.

More than 30,000 Filipino workers have been repatriated since April, with 42,000 more due to arrive in June, according to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.

Galvez has also warned that the surge of Filipinos coming home could set off the feared second wave of COVID-19 infections across the country.

While the returning workers are undergoing the precautionary 14-day isolation, Bertiz said not all of them are getting screened for the highly contagious respiratory disease.

“And many of those who do get tested are released from quarantine anyway without negative confirmation. This is due to delays in the processing of their test samples,” Bertiz said.

So far, 465 repatriated workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, but Bertiz said many more are being found sick belatedly, upon their return to their home provinces.

Meanwhile, Bertiz said 2,140 Filipinos abroad have been infected with COVID-19, and 244 of them have died.


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