The remains of 49 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) 20 of whom died of Covid-19 in Saudi Arabia have finally return home for their last reunion with their families. They arrived via a Philippine Airlines (PAL) charter flight.
In sorrowful ceremonies at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. were among those who paid their last respects to the repatriated remains.
Philippine Air Force chaplain, Rev. Fr. Jessie Gagarin, a captain, blessed caskets of the deceased before their transfer to various crematoriums.
“(We condole) with the families of our modern-day heroes as we receive them back on our soil and give them honors in an extremely extraordinary situation,” Bello said in a statement.
Bello also apologized for the delays in the repatriation of the remains due to the lockdown and strenuous processes they had to undertake.
Of the 49 repatriates, 32 were from Dammam and 17 from Riyadh. “Next to be brought back are those from Jeddah and other parts of the region. To endeavor on the repatriation of the human remains of our OFWs of this magnitude is a first for the government,” Bello added.
He likewise acknowledged the collaborative efforts of the departments of health, interior, transportation, defense, and the Bureau of Quarantine, Manila International Airport Authority, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Defense Secretary and National Task Force against Covid-19 chair Delfin Lorenzana, for his part said the repatriation of the deceased OFWs is part of the whole-of-government approach of the Duterte administration in taking care of the welfare of overseas Filipinos amid the pandemic.
“What we wish to give our OFWs is the usual warm welcome upon their return to the motherland, but in this sad moment, from the people behind the National Covid-19 Task Force and a nation in mourning. Thank you and farewell, our compatriots,” Lorenzana said.
The 49 remains represent the first batch of the 274 bodies of OFWs in Saudi Arabia that are awaiting repatriation. Another 44 remains are set to arrive on Monday.
OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, meanwhile assured the families of the OFWs they would receive cash aid from the government.
“All the families are entitled to receive cash assistance from DOLE-OWWA, insurance benefits and some of the families will also get DOLE-OWWA assistance as provided by law,” Cacdac said.