EXCLUSIVE: Bello: Over 400 undocumented OFWs in Saudi returning to PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 13) — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said over 400 undocumented Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are expected to come home as a result of talks with the Saudi Arabian government.

"Meron tayong about 250 who are set to return to our country," he told CNN Philippines on April 13. "Plus yung in-expect natin na 160, we are talking about 400 of our countrymen na makakauwi sa atin."

[Translation: There are about 250 who are set to return to our country. Plus the 160 who we are expecting, we are talking about 400 of our countrymen who can come home.]

 

Bello said the 250 OFWs are returning under Saudi Arabia's "A Nation Without Illegal Expatriates" program that gives undocumented foreigners 90 days to leave the country without risk of detention.

He added that around 4,000 OFWs have already applied for the program and that the Philippine government has deployed an augmentation team to help them.

President's promise

Before he left for his official trips to the Middle East on April 10, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to bring home 250 OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia, along with those on death row.

Read: Duterte to bring home jailed OFWs granted clemency in Middle East

"By the time mag-land ako pauwi, kasama ko na ang mga undocumented at illegal... They will all be ferried home. Ang first batch niyan, 'pag landing ko sa Davao, nandoon yung eroplano, dala sila. And we will continue to do that," Duterte said in his pre-departure speech in Davao City.

[Translation: I will be with undocumented and illegal (workers) by the time I land in the Philippines. The first batch will be in Davao when I land.]

However, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on April 12 that the Philippine government cannot ask for clemency for those facing capital punishment since the issue has not reached the level of the King.

Read: Abella: Duterte offered to charter a plane to bring home Filipinos on amnesty

Special agreement

Bello meanwhile said the other 160 undocumented OFWs — who are living in shelters in Saudi Arabia — are likely to be repatriated under a separate agreement since the amnesty program only accepts those without pending cases.

"Yung mga andun sa shelter na 'yun ay baka hindi sila mag-qualify sa amnesty program kasi may mga kaso," he said. "So special request natin na kung maari sana, bagamat may kaso sila, ay tulungan ng Minister of Labor nila na ma-repatriate sila. And mukhang positive naman ang response."

[Translation: Those OFWs in the shelters may not qualify in the amnesty program because they have cases. So we are giving a special request that, because they have cases, the Minister of Labor there can possibly help in repatriating them. And it looks like the response is positive.]

Atty. Cesar Chavez, officer-in-charge Overseas Workers Welfare Administration's Repatriation and Assistance Division, said on April 13 that around 16,000 OFWs in the Middle East are irregular, undocumented or overstaying.

Read: 105 OFWs under Saudi amnesty program back in PH

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ruth Cabal contributed to this report.