Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo today echoed the recommendations made by the DSWD team that participated in the recent Humanitarian Mission of the Rodrigo R. Duterte government to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The objective of the mission is to bring home stranded overseas Filipino workers affected by the crisis in the said country.

On August 8, 2016 in Jeddah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman issued a series of directives foremost to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Ministry of Finance to take necessary measures to oblige contracting companies to pay the salaries of their employees in accordance with the Wage Protection Program of the Saudi government that ensures worker’s salaries are fully paid. The government may not release what it owes to these companies unless the Ministry of Labor certifies the timely payment of their employees.

Immediately after this, the Duterte administration ordered the creation of a team to lead a humanitarian mission to the KSA. It was organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the DSWD, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), Department of Health (DOH), and the Technological ans Skills Development Administration (TESDA) to participate in this noble endeavor. The mission is the Duterte government’s response to the problems affecting OFWs such as expired Iqama, non-issuance of exit visa, no insurance coverage and are delayed for repatriation.

On the part of the DSWD, the agency provided psychosocial intervention to convince the OFWs to return home. The DSWD also provided food and hygiene packs and regional referrals they needed so they prepare themselves for their return to the Philippines.

“We are very happy for the success of the humanitarian mission and we laud the efforts of the members of the DSWD team who worked very hard to reach out to our stranded kababayans in the KSA. However, based on the assessment of the team members themselves, much remains to be done because so many OFWs remain in dire straits in different part of Saudi Arabia. We have to continue our efforts to reach them and give them the assistance they need until they can return safely to the Philippines,” she said.

“There is also an urgent need to ensure that the more vulnerable members of stranded OFW communities – women, children, and sickly individuals – are given immediate assistance. We at the DSWD want to ensure that they are among the priorities of all our initiatives concerning OFW repatriation,” Sec. Taguiwalo said.

DSWD assessment points and recommendations

Sec. Taguiwalo said that the DSWD has come up with some recommendations based on the assessment they made of the humanitarian mission’s accomplishments. She said that these will be submitted to the responsible agencies at the soonest possible time.

“We have also come up with a few resolutions for our units charged with assisting OFWs,” she said.

Among the observations the DSWD made concern the need for Philippine Embassy and The Philippine Consulate General in the KSA to work with Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) officials to continue the processing of documents of the stranded OFWs for as long as the Royal Order exists.

“There are also many OFWs in far flung jobsites who do not have access to information regarding their rights to be given assistance by the government. More importantly, there are many other distressed OFWs from other companies not within the coverage of Humanitarian Mission but are equally in difficult situations and are appealing for assistance from DSWD and the inter-agency representatives,” Sec. Taguiwalo said.

She said that the DSWD was open to working with other concerned agencies on how to improve the process of helping stranded OFWs.

“For instance, we see that there is a need to standardize and synchronize the inter-agency coordination so we can achieve the goal to bring home stranded OFWs. The process flow of assistance adopted by the inter-agency group in Riyadh provided efficient and effective results until the repatriation of stranded OFWs. The core messages produced – to help stranded OFWs and bring them – were effective; however, we need to harmonize statistical accomplishments so teamwork between and among inter-agency representatives can be sustained,” Sec. Taguiwalo said.

Sec. Taguiwalo said that the DSWD is also all for lobbying for the expanded coverage of the Royal Order to include stranded/distressed OFWs in small companies, equally in difficult situation and those vulnerable groups, i.e. women and children.

“We also strongly hope that the DOLE/POEA/OWWA and their counterpart overseas offices intensify the blacklisting of companies/employers that defy labor laws and policies. We also recommend the suspension of deployment of Household Service Workers in countries with high number of reported cases of abuse. ”

“These are valid recommendations that the DSWD are making and we are officially proposing them to the inter-agency body responsible for assisting stranded OFWs all over Saudi Arabia. So many OFWs remain stranded, and many of the women among them have experienced unspeakable violations against their rights as women and as individuals. We continue to be bombarded with appeals and cries for help from OFWs through email and social media, and we cannot in good conscience ignore them. We have to take continuous and decisive action to help them,” said Sec. Taguiwalo.

OFWs reached

The DSWD Team served a total of 9,476 OFWs from different companies such as Saudi Bin Laden Group, Saudi Oger, Mohammad Al-Mojil (MMG), and various sub-contracting companies. Of the total number of served clients, 4,147 (44%) are from Jeddah, 3,588 (38%) are from Riyadh, and 1,741 (18%) are from Al Khobar/Dammam.

A total of 890 OFWs from Saudi Oger Company and Mohammad Al Mojil were repatriated between August 30 to September 10, 2016. Their tickets have been provided by the Saudi Government.

DSWD Undersecretary Vilma B. Cabrera attended the high level meeting in Riyadh on August 16, 2016 together with Secretary Bello of DOLE, Secretary Abdullah Mamao, Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, Sec. Mamondiong of TESDA, Undersecretary Jesus Yabes of the DFA, Usec. Lagunzad of DOLE, CDA Iric Arribas of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh in a dialogue with the Minister of Labor on the compliance process regarding the Royal Order to provide assistance to stranded OFWs. Usec Cabrera also joined campsites visitations, reinforced debriefing/counseling to stranded OFWs.

Assistant Secretary Hope V. Hervilla represented the DSWD in a dialogue with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in Jeddah and Al Khobar. She attended the OFW Summit in Jeddah to explain the goals of the Humanitarian Mission and share the available DSWD programs and services for OFWs and their families. She strongly advocated the need to organize and systematize the process of helping inter-agency team in Jeddah and Al Khobar to achieve the goals of the Mission, held various dialogues with the OFW group Migrante leaders/members and Employers (Barghash and SCRACO) of distressed OFWs, approved Translators/Interpreters as manpower compliment in Jeddah and Al Khobar and rendered counseling to stranded OFWs in campsites.

The process flow of assistance provision created by the inter-agency in Riyadh was acknowledged as the best practice that resulted in the repatriation of 508 stranded OFWs from Saudi Oger during the Humanitarian Mission.

The basement of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh was utilized as an accessible venue to serve stranded/live-out OFWs from August 27-September 5, 2016. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were used to inform OFWs who were employees of the target companies of the Mission.

The DSWD provided assistance to 9,446 stranded OFWs from the 8,000 target or 118% accomplishment. Volunteers rendered valuable support in the organized distribution of assistance.

As of September 14, 2016 during the debriefing of inter-agency participants to the Humanitarian Mission, Usec. Lagunzad reported another 340 OFWs who were repatriated from MMG Al Khobar and Saudi Oger in Riyadh bringing the total of repatriated OFWs to 1,230.

Even before the Humanitarian Mission, 1,136 OFWs were referred to concerned DSWD Field Offices from January-August 2016. Their families received financial assistance for medicine, educational assistance for their children, transportation and livelihood assistance ranging from Php5,000.00 to –Php 10,000.00 through the DSWD Field Offices in coordination with the Local Government Units. Some 506 new repatriates from Riyadh and Al Khobar during the Humanitarian Mission were referred to DSWD Field Offices for assessment and appropriate assistance.

An estimated amount of SAR 1,161,402.88 or USD 309,707.43 was disbursed by the three teams for food and hygiene packs. The highest disbursement was in Riyadh with SAR 480,818.63 or 41% of the total disbursement; 38% was disbursed by the Jeddah team while 21% was disbursed by the Al Khobar team. The above disbursements is 33% of the total operational funds of DSWD amounting to Php 43,515,040.96 considering that the repatriation ticket was shouldered by the Saudi government and partly restored the catering services of the company to some of the Saudi Oger, Mohd. Al Mojil and Saudi Oger accommodations. #