MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is expediting the process of repatriating the remains of 282 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who died in Saudi Arabia.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said most of them died from natural causes, while a total of 50 OFWs succumbed to coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Bello said they are coordinating with the families of the dead OFWs on whether they still want the bodies repatriated or let the Embassy in Saudi Arabia bury the bodies there.
Bello, meanwhile, said that they would rather not repatriate the bodies of the COVID-19 fatalities as they pose a higher risk of infection, especially on the family members. He was quick to add, though, that the decision still lies on the relatives.
“Iyon pong mga kababayan natin na hindi sinuwerte at namatay dahil sa COVID, pinag-a-aralan po natin na baka mas mabuti na lang kung doon na lang ilibing kasi baka ma-contaminate pa at magkaroon pa ng transmission sa kanilang kamag-anak,” Bello explained adding that cremation is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, Bello assured the bereaved families that they will receive the separation pay of their departed loved ones, as well as the burial benefits and claims from the Social Security System (SSS).
Secretary Bello noted the Saudi government’s understanding and allowed more time for Labor officials to process a chartered flight for the remains.
However, he stressed that one of the struggles that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and DOLE face abroad is reaching the OFWs especially in delivering relief or food assistance due to strict lockdown measures being imposed in their respective host countries.
Additionally, the operations in the Embassy in Riyadh have been affected after seven of its staff contracted COVID-19.
Nevertheless, Bello said they are grateful that the Embassy is receiving help from the Filipino community there.
“Ang opisina natin at Embahada ang nagbibigay ng pagkain pero sa pag-distribute ay Filipino community na [Our office and the Embassy provide the food packages but the Filipino community distributes them],” he assured. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)
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