CITY OF MANILA, July 10, (PIA) -- The remains of 49 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi Arabia arrived in the Philippines this morning at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, as government works to repatriate 274 bodies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cabinet officials honored the 49 OFWs whose remains were repatriated from Saudi via a Philippine Airlines (PAL) charter flight that arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 10 a.m.
During the simple ceremony at Villamor, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, representing President Rodrigo Duterte, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. were among those who paid their last respects to the bodies.
Of the 49 OFWs, 20 died of COVID-19 cases, while the other 29 of other causes.
"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.
Bello also apologized for the delays in the repatriation process, citing the lockdowns and strenuous processes they had to undertake. No family members were allowed on site.
"If today, we have 32 of our beloved OFWs 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," the DOLE chief added.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said this is the first time that the national government is embarking on a mass retreival of human remains.
The bodies of those who died from COVID-19 will go directly to the crematorium, while those who died from natural causes, their relatives have an option to either cremate immediately or retrieve the body and bury it within 24 hours in a cemetery of their choice, Bello said in an earlier interview.
Aside from the repatriation of human remains, Cacdac reported that government have so far facilitated the repatriation of close to 80,000 OFWs back into their home provinces.
"We'll get their details. Then we will contact them and their licensed manning agency so we can ensure their return home. It's just a matter of coordination with their shipping lines and manning agencies so these can act quickly to get our people home," Cacdac said.
The repatriation of OFWs is part of President Duterte's directive to help reunite OFWs with their families amid the challenges of the current global health crisis.
"We continue to provide food, accommodation, and transport services to returning OFWs averaging 1,000-2,000 individuals daily," Cacdac said. (PIA NCR)