Operations of special commercial flights for stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the UAE are set in August, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
This was the DFA’s response to a query from John Morrison, an Irish expat in Dubai who needs to return to his home country but fears leaving his Filipina wife alone and stranded in the emirate.
“May I ask Sir @teddyboylocsin what you would do in my position. My wife has now had her expensive Emirates flight seat back to Manila cancelled. She’s fully vaccinated in Valenzuela before trip and Quarantine hotel was booked? Do I just leave her here Sir?,” asked Morrison in his tweet with the hashag #Furious.
DFA Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. responded to Morrison, keeping DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Ysmael Arriola in the loop.
“I know you’re furious but we’re all scared of the Covid variant and safety rules of course sweep too broadly,” said Locsin.
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) July 21, 2021
Arriola replied to the message thread saying: “SFA, based on IATF ( Inter-Agency Task Force) Res 127-C, there will be Bayanihan flights (special commercial flights) by Aug. Those who have capacity to pay may book with the airlines once flights become available.”
However, some stranded OFWs who had booked tickets as early as May but were cancelled many times since were pleading to the DFA to also consider their current situation.
“Kawawa naman ang mga may sariling ticket na nabili na namultiple cancellation na nangyari. Saan po ulit kukuha ng pambili para lng mapasama jan sa SPECIAL Flight na naman na yan? Maawa naman ho kayo hindi po mga boss ang mga OFWs na kayang bumili ng 2 ticket para lang makauwi,” wrote one OFW, who used the hashtag #liftuaeban.
OFW Don Bantang also commented: “Instead of shifting the burden to the OFW and ROF na bumili ng ticket sa “kanilang kapasidad”, why not tell the airlines Cebu Pacific and PAL na gawing priority ang mga OFW at ROF na nakapag-book na ng ticket?”
Another wrote: “Hi Mam Sarah. Mam paano po kaming may mga ticket na? Hindi po ba kami iko-consider jan sa “special commercial flight”, mam? Nagbayad na po kami ng mahal sa ticket. Please i-consider niyo rin po kami.”
CONDUCT OF SPECIAL FLIGHTS
The IATF on July 9 issued a resolution allowing special commercial flights to fly home stranded OFWs from countries under the travel restriction imposed by the Philippines including the UAE and Oman.
These flights, which will be subject to guidelines, will be exclusive only for Filipinos.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said in a press statement: “The IATF authorized the conduct of special commercial flights to bring home stranded Filipinos in Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other countries where there are travel restrictions imposed.”
A special working group (SWG) composed of various government agencies would determine the protocols for the special commercial flights, in coordination with the concerned airlines.
“The special commercial flights, which must have prior approval from the SWG, shall likewise be exclusive for Filipinos,” Roque said.
“The guidelines on the implementation of exemptions for the Philippine government and non-Philippine government repatriation shall be followed,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the extension of the travel ban for inbound passengers from the UAE, Oman, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka until July 31. In a fresh decision, Indonesia was also added to the list.
Filipinos were supposedly exempted from the travel ban, but they could not go home due to temporary suspension of commercial flights from the UAE to the Philippines.
In effect, only those who were part of the repatriation program had been able to fly home.