President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the release of P5 billion more to repatriate and help overseas Filipino workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Sunday.
The Department of Finance, meanwhile, said the government is ready to spend P140 billion for an economic stimulus plan this year up to 2021.
Bello said a huge part of the 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.
READ: OWWA partners with NTT DATA to launch cash aid for OFWs
Aside from repatriation assistance, OWWA shoulders the cost of COVID-19 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 they test negative for the virus.
The agency has so far sent home close to 130,000 overseas workers since May 15. 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.
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Other than the OWWA assistance, DOLE has been extending a one-time P10,000 or $200 cash aid to pandemic-affected OFWs, both on-site and those stranded in the country.
The department's Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program has already disbursed P2.388 billion of its P2.5 billion as of August, DOLE said, helping 267,584 OFWs.
Bello had requested a P2.5 billion additional funding 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 assistance.
Meanwhile, aside from the P140 billion economic stimulus plan, the DOF said another P40 billion in tax credits will come from the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill, which is a reworked version of the government's government's comprehensive tax reform program, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
READ: 300k jobless OFWs returning
The P180 billion stimulus package also includes injecting P50 billion into the banking system, which the DOF said will have a multiplier effect that can generate about P400 billion worth of economic activity.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government has the resources necessary to endure the challenge of COVID-19 and its adverse economic impact, despite the 9 percent drop in gross domestic product for the first half of the year.
In a briefing, he said the economy will improve in the second half of 2020 if all sectors work together to shore up consumer confidence and the public cooperates in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Dominguez said without continued and increased public-sector spending, especially on infrastructure, public health and social protection, the first semester GDP would have shrunk by a steeper 11.5 percent.
Government expenditures during the first semester of 2020 were up by 27 percent year-on-year, increasing to P2.01 trillion from P1.59 trillion during the same period last year.
READ: Only 49 OFW remains arrive from KSA
Among the country’s credit-rating peer group, first-semester numbers show contractions among the economies of Italy by 11.6 percent, Mexico by 10.2 percent and Indonesia by 1.2 percent.
“We are not alone in our struggles, although the unique fiscal and macroeconomic strengths with which we entered 2020 will continue to provide us with solid footing as we confront our economic challenges,” Dominguez said.
Also over the weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs said 124,717 Filipinos abroad have been repatriated since it began bringing them back in February due to the pandemic.
The DFA said the number was reached after 8,924 overseas Filipinos were repatriated to the country last week.
Of the 124,717 Filipinos repatriated, 39.8 percent or 49,655 are sea-based while 60.2 percent or 75,062 are land-based.
Of those repatriated this past week, 3,660 were from the United Arab Emirates who were flown in on 13 special commercial repatriation flights and one DFA-chartered flight.
A total of 2,349 seafarers also arrived last week from Bangladesh, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The DFA also facilitated the repatriation of stranded Filipinos from Mongolia, Palau, and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, through the help of foreign service posts and Filipino communities abroad.
The DFA said it is also working with the Philippine embassies in Beirut and Tehran to repatriate distressed Filipinos in Lebanon and Uzbekistan.
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