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OFWs welcome Ople’s dialogue offer

Migrante International to press demand scrapping of ‘burdensome’ requirements and fees with incoming migrant workers secretary

Migrant workers welcomed incoming Department of Migrant Workers secretary Susan “Toots” Ople’s pronouncement to look into their demands to scrap recently-added requirements and fees before deployment abroad.

Migrante International (MI) said Ople’s openness to dialogue with Filipino migrants and review the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) requirement and other mandatory fees when she formally assumes office on Friday, July 1, is “much appreciated.”

“Incoming Secretary Ople’s invitation to initiate virtual town hall meetings with Filipino migrants is much appreciated by MIGRANTE International regional members who are looking forward to meet the Secretary and convey to her the issues of land and sea-based members,” MI chairperson Joanna Concepcion said in a statement.

In a Rappler interview on March 30, Ople said she plans to hold virtual town hall meetings as well as conduct a “systems review” to see how the government deals with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

MI said the outgoing Rodrigo Duterte government has made it harder for OFWs to apply for permits as they are required by the (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to pay Balik-Manggagawa fees, Philhealth, Pag Ibig and OWWA membership contributions in order to secure OEC before deployment abroad.

Newly-hired OFWs also need to settle “onerous” charges from recruitment agencies and other private and government offices, the group added.

Concepcion said Ople’s planned town hall meetings would be an opportunity for them to reiterate demands for the scrapping of the new requirements and fees. 

MI said they will also ask the incoming secretary to set up more temporary shelters abroad for migrant workers in distress, legal and counseling assistance to those in jail, and right to security of tenure for seafarers.

The group also said they will ask Ople to help bring Mary Jane Veloso, in jail in Indonesia since 2010 for alleged illegal drug trafficking, home.

“We hope that Secretary Ople can also help in the immediate return of Mary Jane including other Filipinos who are still languishing in jail abroad, Concepcion said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFWs oppose new order on mandatory Pag-IBIG membership

Overseas Filipinos opposed the new resolution making membership to the government’s housing fund mandatory, calling the measure “extortion”.

Migrante International (MI) said overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have always been the target of government money-making schemes and the new order by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) is another.

In a joint resolution this month, the two government agencies said all OFWs must be Pag-IBIG members in order to secure overseas employment certificates (OEC), a prerequisite to applying for jobs abroad.

The government said the new measure is meant to ensure that OFWs will receive uninterrupted benefits from Pag-IBIG, such as loan packages and other programs.

The order is an addition to the earlier requisite for OFWs to secure exit clearance from the POEA as well as POEA and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration memberships, travel insurance, Social Security System and PhilHealth memberships before being allowed to fly abroad.

MI also revealed that the government has imposed additional medical, training and other processing requirements during the COVID pandemic.

MI said the order, issued only a month away from the May 2022 national and local elections, is another desperate device by the Rodrigo Duterte government to milk more funds from the OFWs.

“This is just another mechanism of the Labor Export Program (LEP). The mandatory Pag-IBIG membership only aggravates the current critical condition of Filipinos who are forced to seek overseas employment in order for their families to survive the severe economic crisis brought about by the endless hike in oil price and basic commodities,” MI said.

Jhoanna Concepcion, MI chairperson, said that without an OEC, OFWs are prevented from leaving the country even if they are already in possession of all the necessary working and travel requirements set by their respective host countries.

“Our own government controls our movement. Now, the government is using the OEC to extract money from our hard-working OFWs. Is this the kind of treatment our OFWs deserved?” Concepcion asked.

MI said it plans on mobilizing its chapters in three major global regions and two major countries in North America to protest against this recent mandatory fee and at the same time will revive its call for the abolition of the OEC.

“We also challenge our presidentiables to speak against this new mandatory fee and, if they are elected, we hope they will provide us with relief and not add more burden to our sufferings,” she said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Covid-positive OFWs in HK forced to stay in parks in cold weather

A number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who have tested positive of Covid-19 are being terminated, abandoned and forced to live in parks in cold weather in Hong Kong.

Migrante International (MI) and the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-HK) reported that several employers of Filipino domestic workers in the territory have refused to take back their employees who are sick with Covid-19.

“[They have] no immediate place to go as they were advised to stay home by the HK health authorities since they were found to be asymptomatic,” MI said in a statement.

Unifil and Migrante-HK secretary general Eman Villanueva said in a radio interview Friday that they received reports of OFWs staying in parks and sleeping on cold concrete floors surrounded only by their luggage.

“Some non-government organizations are trying to find temporary shelter for the sick OFWs but it should really be the Philippine government’s concern,” Villanueva told DZRH.

He added that not all Covid-positive migrant workers have access to NGOs or others for assistance.

5th Covid wave in HK

The HK-based Mission for Migrant Workers said it has assisted no less than 10 domestic workers who were “preliminary positive” (with Covid-19) and were left in the cold the past 2-3 days.

The humanitarian organization said the situation is “a developing crisis due to the fifth wave of COVID-19 pandemic” in the territory.

The mission added that HK hospitals and quarantine facilities are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, migrant domestic workers who have mild symptoms were told to isolate at home.

“With no assistance available, these workers are abandoned on the street overnight, stranded at hospitals, lacking food and supplies. Some are not eligible for public healthcare due to contract termination,” the mission revealed.

[The Mission for Migrant Workers has launched this appeal to Help Abandoned Domestic Workers in Hong Kong.]

PH gov’t abandonment

MI and Unifil-HK added the situation of terminated and sick OFWs is made worse by the apparent abandonment by the Philippine government.

“Clearly, government neglect is the trademark of the Philippine government whose one of the main sources of revenues is the mandatory collections of fees imposed by the PH government under its Labor Export Program,” MI said.

The groups demanded that the Manila government through its Consulate General in the territory to make immediate arrangements with the HK administrators to set up a free isolation center for COVID-19 positive Filipino migrant workers.

“We also demand the PH government for an immediate cash relief to OFWs who were terminated and affected by the pandemic in Hong Kong and other countries,” the group added.

The PH Consulate General in HK has yet to reply to requests for comment. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

MIGRANTE INT’L: Unpaid Saudi OFWs may claim P10k aid from OWWA

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with pending salary claims in Saudi Arabia may now apply for financial assistance with the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), Migrante International (MI) announced.

While the thousands of affected OFWs wait for the result of their claim to unpaid salaries and benefits, MI said OWWA finally decided on giving a financial aid package of P10,000 per worker.

“This is a victory for our Saudi OFWs who took collective action to push for financial assistance from DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and OWWA while their labor claims are pending in Saudi Arabia,” the group said.

OWWA’s Financial Relief Assistance Program announcement. (https://frap.owwa.gov.ph/?fbclid=IwAR2mfthznaMH7e3DFKDQ0uA6bXnhBrsEHQDn55txRj0gSfaA2l8KEbLIQsU)

About 9,000 OFWs were forced to return to the Philippines in 2016 after they stopped receiving remuneration from so-called Arab mega recruitment agencies responsible for their deployment to the kingdom.

Last October, labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is expected to pay P4.6 billion in unpaid salaries to the OFWs in exchange for the lifting of the Philippine government deployment ban.

MI however pressed the Philippine government to “urgently and proactively” address the non-payment of salaries of the affected OFWs.

“DOLE must also ensure that it provides financial aid to those currently stranded in Saudi Arabia and were likewise affected by the Saudi Crisis because based on the requirements, they are excluded from this financial aid program,” MI added.

The migrants group also said the Philippine government must repatriate OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia who now wish to come home. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFW slams ‘unsuitable’ OWWA quarantine facility

Hotel suffers water supply interruption since Tuesday evening

A retuning overseas Filipino worker (OFW) complained of being placed in an “inadequate” quarantine facility by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) after returning from Singapore starting last Saturday night.

In a message to Kodao, “PB”, an engineer, said Red Doorz Hotel along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA)in Pasay City only had “closet-sized” rooms for him and his fellow OFWs that are “unsuitable” as quarantine facilities that lasts for days.

PB and fellow returning OFWs are required to complete a five-day quarantine until Thursday having been tested negative of the Covid-19 virus.

“Our room door size has the same width as a standard toilet door. The entrance could not be described as a walk way as its width is less than a meter width leading to the bed. The room is only two meters wide that do not allow us to open our standard large travel luggage. Our travel luggage is dirty and we have to place it on the bed!” he said.

Returning OFW slams size of room at OWWA quarantine facility he says even backpacking tourists would not stay in for more than 12 hours. (Photo by PB)

The OFW said their rooms are only good for backpacking transient tourists who only need room to wash and sleep for a night.

PB added their rooms have a single-sized bed, have their own bathrooms, are air-conditioned, with an electrical outlet, wi-fi access and a wall television set. They were also provided with a single-use soap and a sachet of shampoo.

 “No backpacker tourist stays in this type of room for more than 12 hours without stepping out. And yet we will be here at least five days,” he complained.

“Clearly this room is not designed for a five-day lockdown quarantine of a travel-weary OFW,” PB added.

Returning OFW said his room is so cramped he could not even open his luggage. (Photo by PB)

‘Stressful arrival and check in’

PB said their group of 25 OFWs from Singapore arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about 6:30 Saturday night and were processed through by the bureau of Quarantine at about 7 PM.

Their group were through the Bureau of Customs only at about 9 PM, however, he said.

By then hungry, they were given “bland adobo” with a piece of chicken leg and water for dinner.

They were herded into a bus that arrived at RedDoorz EDSA-Pasay at 9:30 in the evening but were made to wait at the hotel garage for hours.

PB claimed that the staff he asked told him that OWWA did not give the hotel was not given advance notice on their arrival.

The group also suffered water supply interruption since Tuesday evening.

“Apparently, OWWA has this practice of very late notice to hotels like them. They couldn’t prepare in advance of course. And so we waited at the extension lobby of the hotel, which means its garage,” PB said.

PB was taken to his room at 11:40 PM, he revealed.

Returning OFW said his travel-weary group was made to wait at the hotel’s garage for hours while their check-in is being processed by OWWA until midnight. (Photo by PB)

“Theres no forward planning by the OWWA…There is no OWWA pre-arrival check of the rooms. Don’t they have any standard room requirement for quarantine? My housemates (as we call our collective group) were so stressed out from travel and the long wait in the garage (lobby extension),” he added.

PB said he quizzed the OWWA staff assigned to their group who reportedly said he himself was not aware RedDoorz EDSA-Pasay is still a quarantine facility.

“There’s a clear mismanagement of the influx of OFW arrivals this holiday season. OWWA knew of the total number of expected OFW per dayand yet there is lack of planning and coordination among themselves,” PB said.

OWWA did not reply to Kodao’s request for comment. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFWs press for scrapping of mandatory PhilHealth membership

A group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos pressed their demand for the scrapping of the mandatory Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) membership amid difficulties brought them by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Migrante International said OFWs have been facing job losses amidst the pandemic that is aggravated by “onerous government fees” such as the proposed PhilHealth premium rate increase this year.

The group said mandatory PhilHealth membership has been a burden for OFWs since the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHC) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20, 2019.

The law requires OFWs to be PhilHealth members before leaving for work abroad.

Migrante earlier said majority of the OFWs have no use for mandatory membership as PhilHealth is practically useless in helping them pay medical bills when they get sick abroad.

Instead, Migrante said PhilHealth membership should be “voluntary for those with capacity to pay contributions.”  

Migrante also scored the corruption at the health insurance agency that has yet to properly account for at least Php 15 billion in allegedly misspent funds.

“PhilHealth has been used as a tool for unscrupulous health officials appointed by the President to amass billions of members’ contributions for their own selfish interests,” the group said.

“Why should contributors suffer by paying increased premiums in response to the agency’s lack of funds?” the group also asked.

Migrante demands “corrupt” PhilHealth officials involved be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Migrante also said OFWs believe that Duterte’s recent announcement to defer the collection of increased PhilHealth premiums is only a tactic to quell the anger and anxiety of the people especially during this COVID crisis.

“Merely deferring the increased premium does nothing to calm down the people,” Migrante said in its statement.

Instead, the group said OFWs want a genuine, pro-people, universal health care program through free and comprehensive medical and health services. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipino victim at Abu Dhabi gas explosion was on his way to a medical check

Clark Gasis’ wife Elna says he was a loving husband and a doting father

By Angel L. Tesorero

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: One of the two Filipinos who died following a gas explosion at an Abu Dhabi restaurant on Monday was on his way for a medical check ahead of his visa renewal, a family said.

Elna Villason Gasis, 32, wife of the deceased Clark Gasis, 38, said: “My husband seldom left the house as he was working from home. On that day (August 31), he dropped me off to work at 8am. Then he went to his office to get some papers and proceeded for his medical check-up.”

“At around 10.30 am, our office chat group was abuzz with news of the restaurant blast. I immediately messaged my husband because we used to live near the restaurant – a family favorite – along Rashid Bin Saeed Street. When I did not get any reply, I decided to call him but his phone was off. I called him four more times but his phone was not ringing. At 1pm, during lunch break, I decided to go to the clinic to check if my husband was still there. I had no cash with me, so I borrowed Dh50 from a friend for a taxi. I was very anxious and my fears were growing.”

Elna said she called her husband’s office but a workmate told her Clark had not returned. She said she then went to the restaurant area and from afar, could see her husband’s car.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“I found a way to get nearer and saw the car was empty. There were only papers, some bread and a half-empty water bottle,” she recalled.

She said her worst fears came true. In the evening, her friends broke the news to her.

“My friends prepared me dinner as I hadn’t eaten the whole day. Gently, they broke to me the heart-breaking news – my husband was one of the confirmed casualties. The following day, I also got a call from the Philippine Embassy. They assured me that they will provide all necessary assistance,” Elna added.

Loving husband, doting father

Elna said she still could not believe his husband is gone.

She described Clark as a “very loving husband and doting father”.

“Very kind, patient, hardworking, considerate and thoughtful – that was my husband,” Elna said. “Even if he was busy working, he would find time to cook and do other household chores. And after a day’s work, he would spend time with our kids – aged five (girl) and four (boy) – and do Zumba. He was also very focused on our kids’ online classes,” she said.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“He was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued.

Elna described Clark as her best friend and confidante. They came from the same province of Surigao del Sur in southern Philippines. They became friends in 2008.

In 2013, Clark decided to come to the UAE to find work and Elna followed afterwards. They got married in 2014 and soon had two kids who were born and raised in the UAE.

Clark worked as an Autocad draftsman while Elna has been employed as an office staff at a vehicle insurance company.

The couple just celebrated their son’s fourth birthday on August 29.

Bleak future

With two young kids, Elna, who is under her husband’s visa, said “the future suddenly looks bleak”.

“My husband always had a plan. We had started building our family house in Surigao and I don’t know how it will be finished, now that’s he’s gone,” Elna shared. “My two young kids still can’t fully absorb what happened to their father. My daughter, who has seen me crying these past two days, tells me: ‘Don’t worry, Ma. Just go to the hospital and hug Dad’.”

Despite the tragedy, Elna said she is mustering enough courage for the sake of her two kids.

“My husband’s death was tragic, but I would rather choose to celebrate his life,” she said. “But I still don’t know how I will be able to raise my kids alone. I need all the help I can get to ensure my kids will have a good education,” she added.

Elna said the immediate task before her was to take her husband’s remains to the Philippines. #

= = = = =

This report is original to Gulf News.

COVID: Distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia seek PH gov’t help

A group of distressed female overseas Filipino workers in Damman, Saudi Arabia is seeking the Philippine government’s help to be repatriated after their employer stopped paying for their salaries since the corona virus lockdown has been imposed in the Kingdom last March 17.

In a video sent to Kodao by a Migrante International member, the workers also asked for food and other relief items as they grapple with what they described as “very difficult conditions.”

In an online interview, the group said that since they have posted their first video online, their employer got angry with them and even tried to block donations of personal hygiene items sent them by concerned individuals.

The OFWs said they have been kept within the confines of their dormitory since the lockdown started.

The group said they were recruited in the Philippines by Mission Way Manpower Agency that said they would be working for the Al-Ajeer Recruitment Company that in turn deployed them to Noura Foundation for house-school-hospital cleaning duties.

They added that they also worry for their families in the Philippines who rely on their remittances especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The distressed OFWs call on the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for help.

“We are no longer safe here,” the group told Kodao. # (Report by Raymund B. Villanueva/Video subtitling by Jek Alcaraz/Video by the OFWs)

INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS WHO WISH TO HELP AND CONTACT THE GROUP MAY CALL ANNALYN LABANON (0542588065) OR MARY JANE MARFIL (0591511439)

Stranded OFWs urge lifting of HK travel ban; quarantined Pinoy seafarer’s daughter seeks medical repatriation for dad

Hong Kong domestic worker Eleveneth Baldero said she fears losing her job due to the travel ban imposed by the Manila government to the Chinese territory. Contractual workers like her may be fired if unable to return back to their employers on time as Philippine authorities have prevented Filipino citizens from travelling to Hong Kong and the rest of China.

“My contract is set to expire on 6 March that is why I’m really worried. Financially, I am running out of money to sustain my stay here in the Philippines. This is why I really need to return back to Hong Kong,” Eleveneth said in a press conference held at the Migrante International office in Quezon City last Monday, 17 February.

Eleveneth and other migrant workers demanded that the Rodrigo Duterte government lift the corona virus disease-19 (COVID-19) travel ban it imposed last February 2 and grant exemption to returning migrant workers, students and residents. 

Rowena Lee was unable to hold back her tears thinking about her recuperating mother in Hong Kong recently discharged from a hospital from another ailment. “This is a very big problem for us since my 75-year old mother in Hong Kong still needs medical attention and I really want to return so I can be with her. She is all by herself,” Rowena said.

Rowena took a short leave from work 28 February and is being prevented to return to Hong Kong by the travel ban. Aside from worrying for her mother and her job, she is also anxious about bills and house rents that she needs to pay. “Our family needs us. It will be very hard for us if we get forced by the situation to borrow money just to extend our stay here. I am pleading to the government to lift the travel ban so we can return to our normal lives. We are struggling because we are not earning anything here,” she said.

Tess Aquino is a permanent Hong Kong resident and had been for 23 years. Aquino went home to the Philippines last 15 January for her annual leave and was set to fly back on 9 February. She heard about the travel ban on last 2 February and received an email notice from Philippine Airlines informing her about her flight’s cancellation. “I have attempted all possible ways to return back to Hong Kong. I was told by my company to try travelling to Hong Kong via Vietnam. Travel agencies refused to book my flight because of the travel ban and I was told that I will only be wasting my money because even if I make it to Vietnam, they would still not allow us to get to our final destination which is Hong Kong. For now, my company allowed me to temporarily work as home-based but for how long? I don’t think our employers will wait for us forever if this continues,” she narrated

Former Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU-Hong Kong) chairperson Feliza Guy Benitez explained that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong are usually given two-week annual leaves, an opportunity they take to visit the Philippines. The leaves are often non-extendible.  “If OFWs get terminated because they exceeded the 14-day leave, it will be hard for us to get back again to zero just to process all the application papers and the government won’t even pay for it,” Benitez said.

(Migrante Hong Kong photo)

Urgent appeal

Benitez said 131 Hong Kong-based Filipino organizations already issued their Urgent Appeal Joint Statement calling on the Duterte government to lift the ban.  The statement estimated that there are around 25,000 overseas Filipino workers who have been unable to leave the country because of the ban. “We all feel that the travel ban which was imposed without a warning or consultation is unjustified and oppressive. It was decided upon without a comprehensive understanding of how it would affect us, and was not even in line with health protocols set by the World Health Organization. The abruptness by which it was carried out also belied the concern for Filipinos abroad that President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in numerous speeches and interviews,” the statement reads.

The statement added that an additional 1,000 OFWs are affected by the travel ban consisting of Filipino residents, students and small business proprietors in Hong Kong. “Health-wise, we also feel safer in Hong Kong where we are assured of excellent public health care at little or no cost to us. Some of us who have private medical insurance get the added bonus of being treated at private hospitals, also for free,” the statement said.

Feliza Guy Benitez, another Hong Kong OFW, decried the state of public health services in the Philippines. “People who need medical attention are safer in Hong Kong because of their advanced healthcare system. It will be harder for OFWs to settle back here in the Philippines because of high unemployment, low wages and contractualization,” Feliza Guy said.

The group also complained about the “miniscule amount of compensation offered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to qualified OFWs. “Each stranded OFW was offered Php10,000 compensation from the OWWA Fund, an amount that would not even pay for the expenses they had to bear after being stranded at the airport. Moreover, non-OFWs were given no help at all, when many of them don’t even have houses in the Philippines, and have to pay for food and lodging while waiting for the ban to be lifted. They are also in danger of suffering even more if they lose their jobs, as they pay high rents and other expenses such as school fees for their children in Hong Kong,” the appeal said.

“When I went to OWWA, I was told that I am not covered because they are only processing compensation up to 16 February. I really do not know whether I will still receive any compensation from the government,” Eleveneth said.

Surrendering right to government assistance

The OFWs also object to proposals that they sign a waiver freeing the government from any responsibility should they decide to proceed with their travel to Hong Kong. Tess said the waiver is “problematic because it is going to free the government from its responsibility towards us OFWs.”

Migrante Philippines rights and welfare coordinator Lao Castillo added, “The waiver requirement is tantamount to obliging OFWs to surrender their right to receive government assistance. It is a dangerous precedent especially in times of conflict or crisis situations.”

Pinoy seafarer in trouble

Meanwhile, Victoria Lavado, daughter of the Filipino seafarer on the cruise ship Diamond fears her father and around 500 other Filipino seafarers who were placed under quarantine in Japan after 10 foreign ship crews which include 1 Filipino contracted COVID-19. “It took a long time before they received safety masks and they are still forced to work as if it is business as usual. There is no separate quarantine area for those who are already infected and they can still mix with other crews despite the risks. This is why I was really worried when I found out from reports that there are already 30 to 60 crews who are getting infected with COVID-19 daily,” Victoria said.

“We really want the Duterte government to work on medical repatriation for my father and for the other Filipino seafarers. The government must find a way to provide quality medical services for them here in the Philippines which is unfortunately notorious for its poor public healthcare and medical facilities,” Victoria added.

The group United Filipinos (UNIFIL)-Migrante Hong Kong’s said that the OFWs predicament may only be blamed on the government’s labor export policy that has been in place for so long. “If there are only adequate employment opportunities here in the Philippines, there could have been no need for us to leave the country. The government is now telling us that we cannot return back to our work. This is almost akin to taking away our lives.,” UNIFIL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

OFWs in peril in Saudi-Yemen war, Migrante warns

A Filipino migrant group warned that thousands of Filipinos are facing danger after Yemeni Houthi fighters fired missiles at an airport in Abha, Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

Migrante International said that it may already be unsafe for close to 36,000 overseas Filipino workers to be airlifted to safety after Houthi fighters again targeted Abha’s Najran airport with missiles.

Migrante International photo.

Migrante said the Rodrigo Duterte government in the Philippines failed to put in place contingency measures to assist OFWs working in southwest Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border.

“Now that airports and control towers are being targeted, it will no longer be safe for Filipinos to be airlifted to safety from these regions,” Migrante said in a statement Thursday.

Migrante said that the Philippine consulate in Jeddah lists about 15,000 Filipinos work in Jizan and 7,850 are in Najran.

It added that in the Asir region, there are 13,000 OFWs in the city of Khamis Mushayt alone.

The city is close to the King Khalid Air Base which earlier suffered airstrikes from Yemeni fighters.

“We are outraged that the Duterte administration remains stone-deaf in hearing our calls to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia as the Philippine government displays the same ineptitude it has shown during the previous outbreak of armed conflict in Libya, Iraq and Syria,” Migrante said in its statement.

The group accused the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs of merely re-echoing “almost the same consulate advisory issued by its office in Jeddah last month.”

“In light of reports from Saudi authorities on the interception of two alleged Houthi ballistic missiles over Taif, one heading toward Makkah and the other toward Jeddah, on Monday morning, 20 May 2019, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes to advise our kababayans in the city and its neighboring areas to remain calm but vigilant for any eventualities,” the Consulate said in its Public Advisory No. 44.

“Will the government wait once more for thousands of Filipinos to be caught up in the deadliest last minute before it even lifts a finger?” Migrante asked.

The group said signs of escalation in the fighting have been clear but the Duterte government “wasted several weeks” in merely campaigning for its senatorial candidates in the region.

“This vile apathy demonstrates how much weight the Duterte government places on its lust for power than looking after the welfare of imperilled OFWs,” Migrante said.

Migrante again called on the Duterte government to ensure that concrete actions are already in place to readily assist OFWs in need of immediate evacuation in all locations of Saudi Arabia within missile range.

“It should draw lessons from similar periods in the past when it only responded upon the moment when lives have already been lost,” it said.

The fighting in the Arabian Peninsula escalated March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states intervened and backed the Yemeni government against the Shiite Houthis, bitter rivals of the Saudi Sunnis.

The United Nations earlier said that as many as 50,000 may have already been killed in the Saudi-led and US-backed war in Yemen in the past four years.

Recently, however, Houthis had been firing ballistic missiles deep into Saudi territory that signify the escalation of conflict where tens of thousands of OFWs are stationed. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)