Filipino healthcare workers have found themselves thrust to the frontlines of the pandemic to care for the most vulnerable across the globe. The Philippines is one of the world’s leading labour-sending countries, facilitating the migration of an estimated 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) during the period April to September 2019. OFWs are often valorised as ‘bagong bayani’ (modern-day heroes) for sustaining the national economy with their remittances, which reached an all-time high of US$33.5 billion in 2019. However, while promoting labour export as a development strategy, the government has long overlooked the reintegration of migrant workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed major gaps in protection for returnees, particularly in times of crisis.
As of October 2020, over 230,000 OFWs have been repatriated since the pandemic began representing about one-tenth of workers overseas. Yet, Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III revealed that there are still 13,000 OFWs waiting to be repatriated, while 70,647 remain stranded overseas predominantly across West Asia. Alarmingly, the Department of Foreign Affairs recently warned of depleting funds to sustain its efforts in repatriating OFWs and assisting distressed returnees.