SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Repatriation flights by Philippine Airlines (PAL) for Filipinos working overseas now cover Diego Garcia, an island military outpost in the Indian Ocean where hundreds of Filipino contract workers are employed.
Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said the first PAL flight from Diego Garcia to Subic arrived here on Monday, Dec. 13, after the Philippine flag carrier decided to expand it “Bayanihan” flights to bring home more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in time for the holidays.
The OFW flights via the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA) began last July under the government’s repatriation program to assist Filipinos stranded abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“With this, Subic is now connected to 10 cities and major destinations in the Indo-Pacific area. We are now the gateway for OFWs coming from the Middle East, as well as Asian ports,” said Eisma.
The areas with PAL connections to Subic include Riyadh and Dammam in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Doha in Qatar, Macau, Palau, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and now Diego Garcia.
SBMA Senior Deputy Administrator for Operations Ronnie Yambao said the latest PAL flight brought to Subic a total of 303 passengers, who are mostly contract workers from Diego Garcia.
One of them was Oscar Ebalan, a native of Masinloc, Zambales, who arrived with his son Aldean, also a contract worker employed by KBR Diego Garcia LLC, a military contractor which provides operations, maintenance, and logistics services in the island.
Ebalan said the OFW flight from Diego Garcia to Subic took more than seven hours non-stop, a more difficult long haul compared to the usual flights that normally made a brief stopover at Singapore.
“But we arrived safe and OK, and the arrival procedures at Subic went smoothly,” he said, adding that they expect to be home after the mandatory quarantine and the requisite RT-PCR test five days upon arrival here.
Eisma said the SBMA expects more OFW flights via Subic before the yearend, but stressed that none of these would originate from countries that the Philippine government has placed on its red list in view of the emergence of the Omicron virus variant.
“We can be assured that no passengers will be brought here from any red-listed country because the government has prohibited the inbound international travel of all persons from red-list areas regardless of vaccination status,” Eisma said.
Prior to flight from Diego Garcia, the Subic airport also received arrivals from Dubai—a total of 280 passengers on Dec. 10, and 269 passengers on Dec. 12, said SBMA airport manager Zharrex Santos.
The recent flights brought the number of OFW flights to Subic since July at a total of 45, with a total of 12,262 passengers processed at the SBIA, Santos also said.