An official on Wednesday urged the Foreign Affairs and Labor departments to convene a meeting to discuss how their programs could be integrated to respond to the issues affecting Filipino workers abroad and those returning to the country.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made the call as he cited the need to submit an “integrated and comprehensive plan” for the Filipino workers abroad who are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a need to convene an inter-agency meeting to determine the missing elements or the weakest links in the system,” Cayetano said.
He made the statement even as Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Malacañang should augment the Department of Foreign Affairs’ assistance fund for Filipino workers.
He said the surge in the number of Filipinos losing their jobs abroad had reduced the agency’s P1-billion fund to P300 million.
“That amount will be gone soon at the rate it is being utilized,” Recto said.
He also said the cost of repatriating a Filipino worker from the Middle East was P35,000, and that covered the plane fare alone.
“So a plane carrying 350 passengers is chartered for P12 million to 13 million,” Recto said.
Cayetano says returning Filipino workers often experience being asked to go from one agency to another for their documentation, training, funding and educational needs.
He recalled that during his stint as Foreign Affairs secretary, an inter-agency working group was formed to identify programs across different government agencies and to discuss areas of cooperation and integration.
He recommended that the heads of the committees on labor and Filipino workers affairs be included in the proposed inter-agency meeting.
“We need to work together to survive the crisis and execute a united response to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano had earlier proposed that the agencies focus on the so-called five Rs: relief, repatriation, recovery, return and reintegration.
Under these five Rs, the Labor department provides relief to returning workers while Foreign Affairs works for their repatriation.
Assistance from agencies such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Science and Technology and some financial institutions will be needed for the workers’ recovery and reintegration.
“I do believe the government has many programs, but the workers and their families do not know how to access them,” Cayetano said.
“And even if they can access them, the red tape that still exists causes delays, pain and hurt.”