Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has reiterated the labor department’s commitment to safely bring home overseas Filipino workers who were virtually locked up in various quarantine facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This as 19,000 out of the 24,000 OFWs who have been kept in government quarantine facilities over an extended period were already sent home.

“We are just short by about 5,000 OFWs who are still waiting to be transported back home so as to accomplish what we were tasked to do. As of last night, we were able to send home 19,010 OFWs,” said Secretary Bello in a media briefing this morning.

“We apologize for the anxiety and discomfort that the unwarranted suffering may have caused our dear OFWs, all 24,000 or so of them,” added Bello.

He assured that the remaining OFWs will be sent home before the deadline set by President Duterte as more OFWs are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

To prevent a repeat of the seemingly disorderly process of sending home OFWs, a command center was set-up at the DOLE Central Office as a repository of data and information on the volume of OFWs being repatriated to the country.

The center will guide the labor department in formulating measures and in crafting policies on repatriation, reintegration, and assistance to OFWs who have been profiled even before their return to the Philippines.

The center will also be of great help in the global mapping of inbound OFWs, and even outbound workers who will be deployed to host countries already opened to foreign nationals.

Meanwhile, Secretary Bello clarified that the labor department continues to accept and process applications for the DOLE-AKAP cash assistance for OFWs who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that the department has received additional funding of P1 billion to cater to requests for financial assistance, which has already ballooned to 450,000.

An initial P1.5 billion was disbursed which benefited around 150,000 OFWs.