The P5-billion supplemental budget the government released to the Department of Labor and Employment would go a long way in its continued effort to repatriate overseas Filipino workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Senator Joel Villanueva.
Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said the latest fund release, which Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III disclosed on Sunday afternoon, would allow DOLE to continue providing the one-time cash grant of P10,000 to repatriated OFWs.
The fresh funds would also cover the cost of repatriation, testing, lodging and transportation to their home provinces.
“The additional P5 billion for DOLE would help in the continuing repatriation of our OFWs who have been stranded in different parts of the world,” said Villanueva.
“We also express our gratitude to our government for heeding our call for additional funding, which we have raised since May in the course of the weekly reports to Congress as provided by the Bayanihan 1 law,” he also said.
The initial funding of DOLE’s Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong (AKAP)—amounting to P2.5 billion—is nearing depletion with the agency disbursing around P2.388 billion as of Aug. 8 to over 233,000 OFW beneficiaries. Both the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Philippine Overseas Labor Offices around the world have processed and approved 267,584 applications, according to the department.
AKAP intended to help 250,000 OFWs initially, but the number of applications swelled to about 597,469, prompting Bello to seek additional funding.
The fresh funding would also enable OWWA to continue providing for the needs of repatriated OFWs, particularly seafarers who called the government’s attention in June for supposed unequal treatment between land-based and sea-based workers.
Seafarers’ groups took issue with DOLE’s guidance that recruiters of sea-based workers must take care of their recruits, while land-based workers can run straight to OWWA for repatriation, testing, and transportation. At the Senate labor committee, Villanueva sought DOLE for equal treatment and assistance to all OFWs.
The surge in applications for relief, both coming from domestic and overseas-based workers, reflect the pressing need for the government to continue prioritizing labor recovery programs that would help jumpstart the economy, given its worst crash recorded in nearly three decades, Villanueva explained.
“More than the latest infusion of funds to finance the repatriation of OFWs, we continue to appeal to the government to expand further our effort to implement a variety of labor recovery programs and provide the necessary budget for these efforts to make it happen,” also said the lawmaker.
Villanueva issued the statement after President Duterte approved the release of the additional P5 billion, as reported by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
Bello said the President is committed to help and support Filipino overseas workers who are considered modern heroes.
Bello said a huge part of the fresh funds will be released to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) which undertakes the repatriation of OFWs displaced on-site due to lockdowns and closure of establishments overseas.
Aside from repatriation assistance, OWWA shoulders the cost of Covid tests of OFWs upon arrival in the country, their food and accommodation in hotels while awaiting test results and the transport to their home provinces once tested negative of the virus.
The agency has so far sent home close to 130,000 OFWs since May 15 via land, sea and air transport. The latest batch of 1,185 OFWs took their rides to their home provinces on Saturday bringing the total number at 129,491 OFWs sent home and given assistance.
Aside from the OWWA assistance, DOLE has been extending a one-time P10,000 or $200 cash aid under AKAP to pandemic-affected OFWs, both on-site and those stranded in the country.
The P2.5 billion AKAP funds is almost completely depleted with assistance already provided to more than 233,000 land-based and sea-based workers, with disbursed amount of P2.388 billion as of August 8.
DOLE’s Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and OWWA had processed and approved the applications of 267,584 OFWs under the program meant to benefit only 250,000.
Bello had requested a P2.5 billion additional fund to augment the requirements of about 597,469 OFWs seeking government assistance.
Bello said with additional funding, more OFWs will benefit from the AKAP program and even more overseas workers will be repatriated and provided with assistance.
“I have directed our POLOs to accelerate the processing of the assistance so that a greater number of our OFWs will benefit soonest from the aid coming from our government,” he said.