By Ben Rosario
The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs has approved a P5 billion fund to provide assistance for the estimated 500,000 overseas Filipino workers expected to be included in the growing unemployment list as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The House panel chaired by TUCP Partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza unanimously approved a substitute bill that consolidated three legislative proposals filed by Reps. Alfred Vargas (PDP-Laban, Quezon City), Michael Edgar Aglipay (DIWA Partylist), Teodorico Haresco Jr. (NUP, Aklan) and members of the Makabayan bloc.
Approval came during May 21’s committee hearing attended by key officials of the Department of Labor and Employment. In the hearing, DOLE Undersecretary Claro Arellano disclosed that they expect the unemployment data to increase with 500,000 OFWs filing the list by August.
Arellano had initially estimated that 300,000 OFWs will be jobless when they come back to the country as a result of the economic slowdown affecting nearly all countries in the world due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The number is expected to balloon to 500,000 by August, the DOLE official said.
Under the bill that will be endorsed by the OFW affairs panel, the P5 billion allocation will finance various programs aimed at cushioning the unemployment impact on distressed OFWS. The programs include the following: 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.
Vargas welcomed the committee panel’s decision, saying that the allocation may not be enough but can be a good start in addressing the initial needs of the displaced workers. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Cacdac requested an additional budget after reporting that the OWWA’s expenses have reached almost P500 million as of May 16, 2020.
Reps. Enrico Pineda (1Pacman Partylist) and Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA Partylist) called on government agencies to thoroughly study their respective recovery plans for locally employed workers and OFWS. “We want to be optimistic that by the end of this year, they will be able to develop a vaccine but we have to expect worst case scenarios and study carefully how we can address them,” said Pineda, chairman of the House Committee on Labor and Employment.
Garin, chairperson of the House Committee on Economic Affairs, said the Philippine Economic Stimulus ACT (PESA) bill also contains OFW wage subsidy for two months. “It is only a temporary relief, but more permanent ones will come from the agencies,” she said.