President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his call for local government units (LGUs) to accept overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) returning to their homes, saying that only the national government could impose travel restrictions.
“I’m ordering you to accept them, open the gates of your territories and allow the people — and allow the Filipino to travel wherever they want,” Duterte said in a public address late Monday night.
He warned local officials that they could face criminal charges for refusing to accept OFWs after their mandatory, facility-based 14-day mandatory quarantine.
“It is the constitutional right of people to go home — to travel and go home. Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally,” he said.
Duterte explained that the national government’s power to restrict travel due to a national emergency cannot be shared with the local government.
“I said nobody but nobody. And only the national government can impose restrictions on travels because it is the only agency who can declare that there is an emergency of national interest. The issue is national interest. And that power to — of declaration is not shared by anybody. It’s the national government,” he said.
While he acknowledged that local officials were only protecting their other constituents from possible infection, he said it was “cruel” to prevent them from returning home.
“You know, in the — not really confusion but in the — in their desire to protect their respective turf, territories.. and I can say that if that is the way they would handle it like a somebody who is really a chieftain of a city or province during a pandemic time, okay ‘yan (that’s okay). Pero alam mo hindi naman lahat talaga nagkasakit (But you know, not everyone is infected) and it is very cruel actually to deny them to go home,” he said.
He said LGUs that want to impose new protocols should first ask permission from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
“If you want a measure to be implemented in your local government unit, ask permission from the Task Force because alam mo it involves many issues,” he said.
Duterte reiterated his order to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that all 24,000 OFWs stuck in quarantine centers beyond the quarantine period are sent home within a week.
He asked the agencies to utilize all government resources to ferry them to their respective provinces.
“I am ordering the use of all government assets whether it’s really the air or the sea or the transportation owned by government that should be utilized in accepting and probably delivering them to their — if possible, delivering them to their homes, to their families,” he said.
In the same meeting, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told the President that all 24,000 OFWs in quarantine facilities tested negative for the coronavirus.
Under government guidelines, all returning OFWs are required to undergo facility-based quarantine and Covid-19 testing. (PNA)