By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Friday urged the government to put in place a mechanism that would help returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) find livelihood in the Philippines.
As the Philippines brace for OFWs’ homecoming following the conflict between the United States and Iran, Gatchalian said the government should be ready with entrepreneurial programs for them.
The senator pointed out that latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show there are around 1.26 million Filipinos who are in the Middle East that may be affected in the event that the conflict between the US and Iran escalates.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipino workers in Iraq. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said that there are approximately 1,300 Filipinos in Iran.
“Instead of focusing only on where to send our displaced OFWs, we should also give them an alternative to overseas employment, one of which is helping them become entrepreneurs in their own country,” Gatchalian said.
The lawmaker said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and OWWA should activate its OFW Enterprise Development and Loan Program (OFW-EDLP) to assist repatriated Filipinos.
He said the program will encourage returning OFWs to set up their own micro, small or medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The said program entitles active and non-active OWWA members to avail a minimum of P100,000 up to a maximum of P2-million worth of loans.
Gatchalian also noted that under the OWWA’s Reintegration Program, the agency also provides immediate relief to active or non-active members displaced from their overseas jobs through the “Balik-Pinas! Balik-Hanapbuhay Program.”
He said OFWs who were displaced from their jobs due to war and political conflicts in host countries could also avail of benefits under this program.
“When we help our OFWs start their own businesses, we are not only helping them get a good and decent livelihood in their own country, they can also provide job opportunities for other Filipinos as well,” he stressed.
The government, however, has eased its mandatory evacuation order after the US-Iran stepped back from engaging in a wider conflict in the Middle East.
But the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said the mandatory evacuation of Filipinos in Iraq will continue.