SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House of Representatives continues to provide the necessary support for overseas Filipinos affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs approving on Friday a substitute bill seeking to provide assistance programs for distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and appropriating P5 billion for their implementation.
The committee chaired by Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza (Party-list, TUCP) approved the unnumbered substitute bill which consolidated House Bill 234 authored by Rep. Alfred Vargas (5th District, Quezon City), HB 277 by Rep. Michael Edgar Aglipay (Party-list, DIWA), HB 4156 by Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr. (2nd District, Aklan), and HB 5043 by the Makabayan bloc.
The assistance programs include 1) repatriation, 2) medical expenses in the form of vouchers for six months from arrival, 3) migration fees for overstaying Filipinos, 4) legal assistance, and 5) basic necessities, among others.
Following the approval of the substitute bill, Mendoza assured that the committee will hold more hearings to check on the plight of OFWs and come up with appropriate measures to address their problems amid the pandemic.
Officials of government agencies mandated to address the needs of OFWs raised their concern on the lack of funding to cover for all repatriates and their families. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Cacdac requested for additional budget after reporting that the OWWA’s expenses have reached almost P500 million, as of May 16, 2020.
Cacdac said OWWA spent for food, accommodation and transportation of repatriates. Meanwhile, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia said concerned government officials should also consider the 40,000 seafarers expected to arrive due to crew change and will eventually undergo quarantine.
Mendoza called on OWWA, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and other concerned agencies to submit the amount of funding they need so all OFWs, including the 200,000 OFWs expected to come home this year, would be attended to. He assured that the House would closely work with the executive branch in finding solutions to the challenges faced by OFWs, such as their displacement and expenses upon repatriation, among others.
“They shouldn’t be spending for all of these because we asked them to be repatriated. We asked them to be quarantined. Ngayon, stranded sila. It is not their fault… We will help you find a solution to this problem,” he said.
Committee on Labor and Employment Chairperson Rep. Enrico Pineda Jr. (Party-list, 1-PACMAN) advised labor agencies to expect the worst scenario as they prepare for the recovery plan for OFWs. “Kailangan makita na meron nang plano kung sakaling umabot dito. We want to be optimistic na by the end of this year may vaccine, pero we are looking at the worst case scenario We will never go back to our normal way of living hangga’t walang vaccine. Mas mabuti na ang sobra kaysa kulang,” he said.
Committee on Economic Affairs Chairperson Rep. Sharon Garin (Party-list, AAMBIS-OWA) said if government is only looking at a plan for until August of 2020, then it should review its proposals. “I don’t know what’s available for now, that’s why I’m trying to get the amounts. In the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) bill, there’s a provision for the OFWs wage subsidy for two months. It is only a temporary relief, but more permanent ones will come from the agencies,” she said.
Meanwhile, President and CEO of OFW Family Party-list Roy Seneres, Jr. proposed to reinforce government manpower using the skills of displaced OFWs. “There are 10 million OFWs. We can see that they are highly in demand because they are skilled and resilient. We can utilize their talents para matulungan tayo sa laban natin sa COVID, [which] is also one way to give them livelihood,” he said.