Most of the 8,000 stranded aspiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were withheld from going abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic have been refusing to go back to their provinces, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said.
At a forum on Monday, Cacdac said these aspiring OFWs were already abandoned by their manning agencies. The agency had already spent around P80 million to provide food for them since March 15.
READ: Not all OFWs can be brought home—Bello
“These are the ones who haven't been able to leave and haven't heard from their manning agencies,” he said.
“Either they failed to board their ships (for work), they have a POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) contract, or they are trainees that have been abandoned by their manning agency,” he added.
According to Cacdac, most of them don't want to go home to their provinces in Visayas or Mindanao because they are waiting for a “crew change” for their targeted ships.
OWWA also shoulders the accommodation of around 1,000 seafarers stuck in Metro Manila.
He commended some cruise ship manning agencies for stepping up in assisting their personnel like Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc., and United Philippine Lines, Inc.
READ: 200k OFWs won’t go home
Around 66,000 stranded OFWs have returned home to their provinces since May 15, Cacdac said.
Meanwhile, more than one million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will be out of work until 2021 as the world economy continues to slump due to the coronavirus disease crisis, according to recruitment consultant and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani.
At the same time, hundreds of recruitment agencies will close shop as a result of fewer deployment of Filipino workers abroad, he added.
“With a huge number of OFWs out of the market, this would also result in licensed recruitment and manning agencies closing shop in the coming months,” Geslani said in a statement Monday.
As a result of the virus which has devastated many countries especially in the Middle East, the total deployment of OFWs for the past five months has gone done by 47 percent compared to the period of January to May 2019.
He said that in 2019, deployment of OFWs reached 870,015 while in 2020 deployment so far had only reached 460,264, down by 50 percent.
For rehired OFW, it reached 618,710 in 2019 but recorded a low of 308,2587 re-hired OFWs in 2020.
New hires also suffered a huge loss of 59 percent in 2020 with only 70,990 compared to 174,398 in 2019 for the same period of January to May.
“Even deployment of seafarers have considerably gone down by 62 percent where in 2019, it recorded 215,482 while only 80,867 were hired in 2020 from January to May,” he said.
He feared that deployment of seafarers was not expected to improve in the coming months as major cruise liners who have repatriated more than 35,000 seafarers and were not expected to recall the cruise ships crews this year as cruise lines had cancelled cruises till October and even till January next year.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Philippine government has brought home an estimated 36,625 OFWs.
Geslani, however, said the near 100,000 OFWs waiting to be repatriated were only a fraction of the total number of migrant workers who may be displaced by December 2021, citing figures from the labor department.
READ: DFA says 31k OFWs returned since virus hit
Earlier, Alice Visperas, director of the Department of Labor and Employment—International Labor Affairs Bureau (DOLE-ILAB) estimated that over one million Filipino workers abroad would have been displaced by December 2021.
The DOLE predicted that the number of displaced OFWs would rise from the current figure of more than 300,000 to about 600,000 by December 2020, around 800,000 by June 2021, and tipping over the one million mark by the end of next year.
The majority of OFWs expected to lose their jobs are employed in the Middle East, followed by Europe, the US, and Asia.
“This grim prediction by the DOLE will have a devastating effect on over 1,200 land and sea-based licensed recruitment and manning agencies with over 50 percent of the existing agencies not expected to survive the next few months,” Geslani said.
“New markets in Europe are still in lockdown and even Japan, which is our newest market, has closed its borders to 111 countries including the Philippines,” he said, adding that “the severe lack of business” would mean the closure of small- and medium-sized recruitment agencies with deployments of less than 200 a year.
Meanwhile, the remains of OFWs who died of COVID-19 would be immediately cremated upon their return to the Philippines, the Department of Health said.
COVID-19 fatalities should be cremated or buried within 12 hours after their death, said Health Spokesperson and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, during an earlier interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo heard nationwide.
But cremation is banned in Saudi Arabia, where some 50 overseas Filipino workers reportedly died due to the pandemic.
“Negotiations on what to do are ongoing. If they are repatriated, we issued an advisory that the casket should be completely sealed. When it gets here, it should undergo immediate burial, the casket cannot be opened,” she said.
READ: 300k jobless OFWs returning
Filipinos who succumbed to COVID-19 and were buried in Saudi cannot be exhumed, she added.
In related developments, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the government should seriously consider establishing travel bubbles with select countries to help the domestic tourism indusry recover from the lockdown since March 16.
Angara urged the Department of Tourism to work with the Department of Health, Department of Transportation and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines on how to implement these travel bubbles, including choosing which countries would take part and which local destinations would be included.
The idea of creating travel bubbles has been raised by Angara as early as May this year in his comments to the 7th weekly report of Malacañang to Congress on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act as a way to help the tourism industry, which has been completely shut down for the past three months.