The P5-billion supplemental budget the government released to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) would go a long way in its continued effort to repatriate overseas Filipino workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to 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, aside from covering the cost of repatriation, testing, lodging and transportation to their home provinces.
“Mapapagpatuloy pa po ng gobyerno ang pagpapauwi ng mga OFW natin na kasalukuyang stranded sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo sa tulong ng P5 billion na karagdagang pondo para sa DOLE,” the lawmaker said in a statement. “Hinihikayat din po natin ang DOLE na samahan tayo sa pagtutulak sa ating ipinanukalang comprehensive labor recovery package nang sa ganun ay may kabuhayan para sa mga OFW na nais nang umuwi dito sa ating bayan.”
“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 continued.
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,” he continued.