MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday warned Local Government Units (LGUs) that they would face sanctions if they failed to accept Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) returning to their hometowns as part of government measures to help nationals leave coronavirus-hit countries.
“I am ordering you to accept them, open the gates of your territories and allow the people ... to travel wherever they want,” Duterte said in an address aired late on Monday night.
The government on Monday began to facilitate the return of some 24,000 repatriated OFWs to their home provinces after they were lodged at quarantine centers in Metro Manila for weeks, with some staying at the facilities for almost two months.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that the 24,000 OFWs had completed the mandatory quarantine period and tested negative for coronavirus.
To reiterate his seriousness about the order, the president has given government agencies a week’s time to ensure that the OFWs can return to their families, but Bello assured Duterte that the task would be completed within three days, from May 25 to 27.
The president’s palace said that Duterte was exasperated by the delay in the release of the OFWs and wanted authorities to speed up the processing of their test results so that those who were cleared could go home.
In his message on Monday night, Duterte warned that local officials who refused to take in the OFWs could face charges, stressing that everyone’s right to travel and to return home was guaranteed under the constitution.
“It is the constitutional right of people to go home — to travel and go home,” Duterte said.
“Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally,” he said.
Duterte said that only the national government could impose travel restrictions because it was the only body that could declare an emergency based on national interest.
As the power to declare an emergency solely lay with the national government and was not shared with any other body, the imposition of quarantine measures should dovetail with national policy, he said.
If LGUs wanted to implement measures at local level, they should ask the permission of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the president said.
Duterte said that it was cruel for LGUs to shut the doors on returning workers. He added it was ironic that while the government considered them modern day heroes, they faced abandonment in times of distress.
To bring home the OFWs who were stranded in Manila, Duterte ordered the use of all government assets to transport them by air, sea or land.
If possible, Duterte said that the OFWs should be “delivered to their families.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano also ordered policemen manning quarantine control points to ensure the smooth passage of the workers who had been allowed to go back to their hometowns.
“Starting today up to Wednesday, (we have) 24,000 OFWs returning to their provinces using buses, airplanes and ships. All these OFWs have undergone RT-PCR testing and all turned out negative,” Ano said on Monday.
“They have a certificate of quarantine so we are informing the public on this as we can see various movements in the next three days,” he said.