MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte ordered local government units on Monday night to allow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to return home after they were left jobless because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic.
"In their desire to protect their respective turfs, I can say, if that is the way they will handle it ... okay 'yan, pero alam mo, hindi naman lahat talagang nagkasakit. It is very cruel to deny [OFWs] to go home," Duterte said during an inter-agency task force meeting.
The president said it is the "constitutional right" of OFWs to go back home.
"Only the national government can impose restrictions on travel because it is the only agency who can declare that there is an emergency of national interest," he said.
"It is the constitutional right of people 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 warned.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the 24,000 OFWs who have been repatriated have already undergone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
"Lahat po 'yan ay na-test po natin using PCR at lahat po 'yan ay negative," Año said.
"Kung sakali lang po na may makakalusot na nawala 'yong kanyang result at siya ay dumating sa LGU nang walang papeles, 'yong advice po natin sa LGU, tanggapin ninyo at ilagay ninyo sa quarantine hanggang dumating 'yong kanyang result," he added.
Duterte said around 62,000 more OFWs are expected to return to the country because of the economic downturn in countries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He earlier ordered government agencies to bring some 24,000 stranded OFWs to their home provinces within a week.
Año said that about 300,000 OFWs are expected to return to the Philippines this year as lockdowns meant to curb the coronavirus pandemic left many businesses struggling to survive.