Duterte OKs additional P5B for OFWs’ repatriation, aid package – DOLE chief
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the release of an additional P5 billion for the repatriation and assistance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III announced Sunday.
In a statement, Bello said a huge chunk of the fresh funds will be released to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), which handles the repatriation of OFWs.
Last June, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac told senators in a hearing that the agency could be driven to bankruptcy by the end of 2021 if the pandemic continues to displace OFWs.
Aside from repatriation assistance, Bello said that OWWA shoulders the cost of COVID-19 tests for repatriated OFWs.
OWWA also provides food assistance and accommodation in hotels to OFWs pending their test results. It also pays for the OFWs’ transportation costs to their home provinces once tested negative of the virus.
Other than the OWWA assistance, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has been extending a one-time cash assistance worth $200 (or P10,000) to pandemic-affected OFWs through its Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program.
However, the P2.5-billion AKAP funds “is almost completely depleted” after P2.388 billion had been disbursed as of August 8 to 233,000 land-based and sea-based workers, Bello said.
DOLE’s Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) and OWWA, Bello added, had processed and approved the applications of 267,584 OFWs under the program meant to benefit only 250,000.
He added that he has already requested a P2.5 billion additional fund to augment the requirements of about 597,469 OFWs seeking government assistance.
With the additional funding, the labor chief said 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,” Bello said.
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