By Hannah L. Torregoza
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to facilitate the immediate repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) first before asking for additional funds for the agency.
Drilon made this suggestion after OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac told the Senate committee on labor and employment chaired by Sen. Joel Villanueva that the agency could face bankruptcy in 2021 should the COVID-19 situation persists.
A former chair of the OWWA, Drilon insisted that the agency should use its existing P18.8-billion funds to bring home all 150,000 stranded OFWs and give them financial and livelihood assistance.
The senator noted the OWWA Fund is principally sourced from OFW membership contributions, which could and should be utilized to help OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them adequate financial, livelihood and other assistance.
“I strongly suggest that OWWA provide fullest assistance to the OFWs. That’s their money. Nobody expected this. Ang kailangan ay matulungan muna natin ang ating mga kababayan sa ibayong dagat (What we need to do is to help our OFWs),” Drilon said.
Cacdac said OWWA would need around an additional P5-billion to repatriate, quarantine and bring home all 150,000 OFWs.
But Drilon said OWWA’s current funds could still absorb the OFWs that need to be repatriated.
“The way I look at it you would still have sufficient funds in your coffers to be able to respond to this,” Drilon told Cacdac.
“I am sure the Congress will be willing to assist OWWA in making it financially viable if it is able to show that in these times of crisis, OWWA can respond properly,” he added.
“We are more than willing to help if you are able to execute your mandate well,” said Drilon.
Drilon, a former labor secretary, earlier filed Senate Resolution No.417, seeking a Senate inquiry on the adequateness and sufficiency of the OWWA assistance to OFWs affected by the pandemic.
The senator also vowed to review the laws that restrict OWWA’s investment after it was also disclosed during the hearing that OWWA only earned less than three percent from its more than P18-billion investment in 2019.
Drilon said it is time the OWWA should “think out of the box” in order to help the agency to become financially viable and come up with ways to reach and assist the country’s “modern day heroes” who experience poor accommodation and slow processing of quarantine certificates.