Bishop Ruperto Santos, head of the Philippine bishops’ Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, has called on the government to investigate the deaths of more than 350 overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia who allegedly died of natural causes. Adnan Alonto, the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said on June 22 that there were at least 353 corpses of Filipino workers, 200 of which needed to be brought back to the Philippines. “They died of natural causes mostly. There were only a few deaths related to coronavirus. There were a few-crime related deaths. But most of the non-Covid-related deaths are due to natural causes,” the ambassador said in an interview. Bishop Santos, however, was not convinced that most deaths were due to natural causes. “There should be an investigation for the specific causes of death to prevent and avoid future loss of life,” Bishop Santos said in a statement.
He also believed there was “something wrong with the whole picture” that deserved immediate attention by the government to safeguard Filipino workers’ rights in the Middle East. “It [the investigation] is also to correct what is wrong, to amend some mistakes and to improve the working conditions of our OFWs [overseas Filipino workers],” added the prelate. Ambassador Alonto earlier said that Saudi Arabia had ordered that Covid-related victims be buried within 72 hours from the time the embassy or consulate was informed about the death. Labor group MIGRANTE also called for more transparent reporting and data gathering from the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia. “The relatives of our deceased Filipino workers deserve to know the cause of death of their loved ones. The government cannot simply say they died due to natural causes. There must be medical records to support the claim,” labor group spokesman Francisco Buenaventura told UCA News. Bueventura also spoke out against alleged discrimination suffered by Filipino medical workers in hospitals or health facilities in the Middle East. He said he had received reports that Filipinos who tested positive for Covid-19 were not prioritized because of their religious affiliation. “I also appeal to the government to exercise its good relations with Saudi Arabia. Please inform them that Christians and Muslims must receive the medical attention needed for our workers to recover from the virus. Our nurses are taking care of Muslim patients. May they also get the kind of medical attention they deserve,” Buenaventura said.
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