138 OFWs from Saudi arrive in PH with Duterte

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 17) — Before he left for the Middle East, President Rodrigo Duterte said God willing, he would bring home with him OFWs stranded in the region.

On Monday, as he returned home from his week-long visit to the Middle East, the President did just that.

One hundred and thirty-eight OFWs from Saudi Arabia arrived in the Philippines on Monday, via a Saudia special flight paid for by the Saudi king.

The OFWs were granted a trip home as a result of meetings and discussions held in Saudi during the President's trip.

The repatriated OFWs faced different problems in Saudi. Some were undocumented workers, some had their passports taken by employers, while others were victims of illegal recruiters.

One of the OFWs said she was underpaid, even as she worked 17-hour shifts.

"Hindi pagbibigay ng maayos na sahod tapos 17 hours ako nagtatrabaho. Yung ano ko, overtime ko hindi po niya binayaran tapos kinakaltasan pa ako buwan buwan ng 35 riyal," Rassel Faldas said.

[Translation: They didn't give me my proper salary, and I worked 17 hour shifts. My overtime pay was not given to me. They'd even take away 35 riyals from me per month.]

Another OFW who had her child with her in Saudi recounted how her employers hid her passport from her.

She said she had been waiting for the opportunity to go home for the longest time, but had difficulty leaving because they would not let her child come with her. 

"Passport ko po wala sa akin. Tapos, walang wala po. Lahat po kaya pinursigi nalang magtrabaho, nagantay po ng ganitong pagkakataon po para makauwi kami ng anak ko. Kasi sobrang hirap makauwi lalo na may anak, hindi po nila ipapadala yung bata. Kaya nagtrabaho nalang po ako," Nursiya Atan said.

[Translation: They took my passport. I had nothing, so I worked so hard. I've been waiting for an opportunity like this so my child and I could come home. It's extremely hard to leave, especially if you have a child. They wouldn't let me take the child with me, so I just worked.]

There are still thousands more who want to come home to the Philippines. However, repatriation may be more difficult for those facing criminal charges.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said around 4,000 OFWs applied under the Saudi amnesty program, which allows undocumented foreigners 90 days to leave the country without risk of detention.

In his speech upon his arrival, President Duterte vowed to spend government funds to ensure OFWs who want to come home are assisted.

"We have an ongoing program for the repatriation of our distressed nationals. Pinapangako ko 'yan sa inyo. Gagawa 'yan natin araw-araw [I promise you this. We will do it every day]," he said.

The President said it was the government's way of repaying OFWs for the sacrifices they'd made. 

"They should be attended to immediately. Pilipino eh (They're Filipinos). At one time or another during their productive years in their life, they helped us very much," he said.

The President told OFWs the government is more than willing to help them start the next chapter of their lives and urged them to approach the Department of Trade and Industry if they need capital to start a business.

He also gave the OFWs a total of ₱10,000 in cash assistance--  ₱5,000 from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and ₱5,000 from his office.

The President said it was his pleasure to see the OFWs return home safely after all their sacrifices.

"I am thankful that you are home safely. You can now be with your family and loved ones. We know your hard work and sacrifice," he said.

Duterte returns with stranded OFWs from Saudi