Statement of CHR Focal Commissioner on Migrant Rights, Gwendolyn L.L. Pimentel-Gana, on the situation of migrants, Overseas Filipino Workers, and members of their families amid the COVID-19 crisis

Statement of CHR Focal Commissioner on Migrant Rights, Gwendolyn L.L. Pimentel-Gana, on the situation of migrants, Overseas Filipino Workers, and members of their families amid the COVID-19 crisis

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) acknowledges the efforts of the Philippine Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The CHR, however, wants to draw particular attention to the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families during this time of COVID-19.

In a study published on 7 April 2020, the International Labor Organization estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected a total number of 2.7 billion workers, or around 81% of the world’s workforce. Lockdowns and related business disruptions, travel restrictions, and other containment measures have had drastic impacts on workers and enterprises.

Among the sectors hardest hit by the crisis are OFWs. As a result of the lockdown measures, some migrant workers were left stranded in their receiving countries with no prospect of earning. Nevertheless, the Philippine Government has organized repatriation flights for OFWs left jobless by the pandemic. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that as of 19 April 2020, the Philippine Government has repatriated over 16,000 OFWs. The data from the DFA shows that majority of the repatriated Filipino workers are seafarers.

As of 22 April 2020, a total of 1,114 overseas Filipinos are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Of the 1,114 cases, 660 are undergoing treatment, while 295 have recovered. The DFA reported a total of 159 fatalities.

The CHR offers its deepest condolences to those who have lost their OFW family members to COVID-19. The CHR also extends its solidarity to our migrants and OFWs who are stranded far away from home, and those who have been repatriated to the Philippines, and the members of their families. The CHR recognizes the plight of our migrant workers, who may grapple with the loss of their jobs or income, and may experience fear and suffering as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

We commend the initiatives made by various government agencies, including the DFA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), including the Philippine Embassies and Consulates General, to address the concerns of our migrants and their families. Nevertheless, we continue to urge the Philippine Government to ensure that our migrants have full access to health care systems, essential goods and services, cash grants or financial assistance, and mental health and psycho-social support services. We also urge the Philippine Government to arrange transportation services for migrants who are still stranded in their receiving countries. All migrants should be duly informed of all the government support services available, and must be guided on how to avail of such services.

Furthermore, we appeal to the DOLE and their Philippine Overseas Labor Offices to continue accepting applications pursuant to the DOLE-Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (DOLE-AKAP) initiative, which aims to provide $200 or P10,000 to displaced regular and documented OFWs, some undocumented OFWs, and OFWs who cannot return to their receiving countries because of the lockdown.

The CHR will continue to perform its protection, promotion, and policy advisory mandates concerning human rights. In line with this, the CHR has launched an “E-Lawyering Program,” which aims to offer immediate legal assistance to actual or threatened victims of human rights violations, who may report the incidents through phone call or e-mail. The program is also open to migrants and their families, and aims to ensure the immediate referral of cases to appropriate government agencies for proper action.

The CHR remains vigilant in guaranteeing that immediate and proper assistance is given to all Filipino migrants. We will continue to coordinate with the National Human Rights Institutions in the receiving and transit countries to ensure that our OFWs who are stranded or are in distress have access to justice and remedies. ###