SUSAN V. OPLE
Published — Wednesday 10 June 2015
The lack of health care programs for Filipino migrant workers is a perennial source of frustration among members of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA). OWWA was created during the Marcos regime as a trust fund for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to be managed by the Philippine government. It now has billions in funds, with the interest earned on a monthly basis being used by OWWA’s management for social insurance, scholarships, temporary shelters, and other welfare services.
Unfortunately, not included in welfare services is the provision for health assistance. For that, an OFW would have to go to PhilHealth, another membership program fully operated by the government where an ailing member can obtain reimbursements based on specific health packages. What happens therefore to an OFW who is no longer a member of both OWWA and PhilHealth and yet suffers a major illness while working abroad? He cries for mercy, and hopes that someone somewhere hears him.
This is exactly what OFW Restituto Galigao, a driver in Jeddah, is now going through. He owes a Jeddah hospital more than SR200,000 or P2.5 million in medical expenses from the time he was admitted on Nov. 28, 2014. Galigao suffered a cardiac arrest while having lunch at a Filipino’s home. A Filipino nurse, Merralyn Amatorio, who brought the OFW to the hospital where she works, said that “Resty” was in and out of comatose. Due to the excellent care that the OFW received from the hospital, he was declared fit enough to come home with the mounting hospital bills the main barrier to his departure.
The Galigao family lives in a resettlement site in Pampanga and does not have the means to contribute even a 1,000 pesos. Resty Galigao left his family 10 years ago to work abroad due to poverty and the lack of job opportunities in the country. The couple has three children with daughter, Cynthia, now serving as the breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately, Cynthia recently lost her contractual job as a merchandiser and the family itself is in dire straits.
According to Reynalyn, the youngest in the family, she was only nine when her father left to work in Saudi Arabia. Though she did not grow up with her father, she knows that he was doing his best to provide for the family. “He calls us upon once a week and sends money home every two months. When he got sick, we went to different government agencies to ask for help. We even bought lotto tickets thinking that if we win, then we would have the money to bring him home.” Reynalyn is now 19 and has not given up on her mission to bring her father home. So far, the family’s pleas for help has fallen on deaf ears except for a non-profit organization called the Filipino Lifeline that brought the OFW’s condition to the attention of this writer.
Reynalyn Galigao lamented that the Department of Foreign Affairs turned their request for assistance down citing the OFW’s undocumented status. The worker has been working from job to job in Saudi Arabia, hence the lack of proper documents and employment insurance.
For humanitarian reasons, the call of Reynalyn and her family for help in bringing OFW Restituto Galigao home deserves an answer. The hospital has done its share in making sure that this poor man would live. Hopefully, the authorities and other kind-hearted souls, would heed OFW Resty’s and his family’s cry for mercy.