MALACAÑANG on Tuesday gave assurances that the government is ready to assist undocumented Filipino workers who were allegedly abused amid a crackdown on illegal migrants in Saudi Arabia.
Reports said that 30 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were abused by Saudi police before being sent back to the Philippines.
The OFWs claimed that Saudi police rounded them up and placed them in a crowded cell for four days before they were paraded from the immigration center to the airport. They were among an estimated 6,700 OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia after an amnesty for undocumented foreigners ended on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that the Philippine government is doing everything to protect and safeguard the rights of OFWs in Saudi.
”Tungkulin po ng ating pamahalaan na ipagtanggol ang karangalan at karapatan ng lahat ng mamamayan [It is the duty of the government to defend the reputation and rights of its citizens],” Coloma said.
”Kung meron pong sapat na katibayan na ito ay naganap, at sila ay handang magharap ng pormal na usapin, tutulungan po sila ng ating pamahalaan na magawaran sila ng katarungan sa kanilang sinapit [If they have evidence of this alleged incident, and they are ready to file a formal complaint, the government will help them attain justice],” he said.
Asked if there is a need for a reevaluation of the policy with regards to sending workers not just in Saudi Arabia, but also in the Middle East, Coloma said “this practice has flourished over four decades.”
”If I recall correctly, that was then heralded as a stopgap measure while dealing with economic adjustment problems largely brought about by the oil crisis,” he said.
However, Coloma cited that with the economic gains, the Aquino government is “vigorously promoting the program of inclusive growth” for Filipino workers to return to the country.
”Isa sa mga layunin ng ating pamahalaan sa ating programa ng [One of the goals of this government is for] sustainable long-term inclusive growth; that we are able to create sufficient job opportunities, that we are able to create attractive job opportunities,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said there is no guarantee from the Saudi Arabia government that OFWs whose papers are still being processed for repatriation or regularization of their statuses won’t be arrested.
“We don’t have such guarantee. But we know that they won’t be arrested,” said DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario
Some 1,600 Filipinos are still waiting for repatriation or correction of their statuses since their papers are still under process. Most of them are camping outside the Philippine missions in Riyadh and Jeddah.
To date, some 4,500 Filipinos have already been repatriated following the extension of the grace period from July 3 to November 3 this year.
The Philippine government and Vice President Jejomar Binay have made representations to Saudi Arabia for the extension of the November 3 deadline.
Meanwhile, the Catholic church criticized the government’s effort to repatriate thousands of OFWs affected by the crackdown in Saudi Arabia.
Father Edwin Corros, Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant Peoples of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that the present administration has been “most of the time reactive” to the issues, concerning the welfare of the migrant workers.
WITH REPORTS FROM BERNICE CAMILLE BAUZON AND ROBERTZON RAMIREZ