A Philippine Catholic bishop called for an investigation into the death of more than 300 Filipinos whose remains are set to be repatriated back to the country from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this week.
Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said the probe will “right what is wrong, to correct some mistakes.”
He said it should also improve future working conditions of Filipino migrant workers.
The Philippine government announced on June 23, that it is chartering a cargo plane to bring home the bodies of Filipino migrant workers who died in Saudi Arabia.
“We’re getting a cargo flight to bring home bodies of about 200 [overseas Filipino workers] from Saudi Arabia,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a television interview.
The remains of another 52 migrant workers who died from the new coronavirus disease will not be repatriated but will be buried in the kingdom.
Manila’s ambassador to the Kingdom, however, said on June 22 that the number of Filipinos who died of the disease was actually 107 and the total number of remains being processed in Riyadh is 353.
Bishop Santos said it is proper that the remains of the deceased workers be brought back home for their families to pay their last respects and for them to have a proper burial.
“We, Filipinos, have a high respect for the dead. We honor the dead. They are sacred to us. It is just and proper to give them a proper, dignified burial,” said Bishop Santos.
The prelate called on Filipino chaplains across the world to offer a series of Masses from June 26 to 28 for the eternal repose of the deceased workers.
“May God in His mercy welcome them in Heaven, our true Home. May God in His love give strength and solace to the bereaved families,” said Bishop Santos.
On June 21, the Department of Labor announced that Saudi Arabia has asked the Philippine government to bring home the remains of 282 deceased Filipinos within 72 hours.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said his office has already made an appeal for more time to bring home the remains of the Filipinos.
Foreign Affairs chief Locsin said the government of Saudi Arabia would cremate the bodies of those who would not be brought home to the country sooner.
“I’ve met the [Saudi Arabian] ambassador who assured me there’s nothing to fear that they will dispose of the bodies,” said Locsin.
“No, we don’t do that, there is no cremation,” he quoted the ambassador.
As of 2919, about a million Filipinos are recorded to be living in Saudi Arabia, the most preferred destination of Filipino migrant workers. One out of five Filipino migrant workers worked in the country during the period April to September 2019.
Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are either migrants or descendants of Filipinos living in Saudi Arabia. Filipinos make up the fourth-largest group of foreigners in Saudi Arabia, and are the second-largest source of remittances to the Philippines.
Government spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will provide benefits to the families of those who died.
The Philippine government has earlier announced that about 3,000 Filipino workers in Africa and the Middle East have been infected with the new coronavirus disease while there were 373 in the Americas, 492 in the Asia-Pacific region, and 305 in Europe.
As of June 21, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs was already able to repatriate more than 51,000 Filipino migrant workers.