Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Sunday announced that President Duterte has approved the release of an additional ₱5 billion for the repatriation and assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because the President loves our OFWs, our modern heroes, he gave us the additional funds that we need for the repatriation and aid to our OFWs,” he said.
Last week, Bello revealed that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has almost exhausted the ₱2.5-billion Abot Kaya ang Pagtulong (AKAP) assistance fund being extended to both on-site and repatriated OFWs affected by the pandemic.
DOLE has been extending a onetime ₱10,000 or $200 cash aid under AKAP to pandemic-affected OFWs.
As of August 8, the DOLE said assistance has been provided to more than 233,000 land-based and sea-based workers, with the amount of ₱2.388 billion.
DOLE’s Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) have processed and approved the applications of 267,584 OFWs under the program meant to benefit only 250,000.
Bello had requested a ₱2.5-billion additional fund to augment the requirements of about 597,469 OFWs seeking government assistance.
With 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 Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (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,” he said.
According to Bello, a huge part of the fresh funds will be released to the OWWA which undertakes the repatriation of OFWs displaced on-site due to lockdowns and closure of establishments overseas.
Aside from repatriation assistance, OWWA also shoulders the cost of COVID tests of OFWs upon arrival in the country, their food and accommodation in hotels while awaiting test results, and the transport to their home provinces once they test negative for the virus.
The agency has so far sent home close to 130,000 OFWs since May 15 via land, sea, and air transport.
The latest batch of 1,185 OFWs were sent home to their provinces on Saturday, bringing the total number to 129,491.
Repatriation ongoing despite MECQ
Even while Metro Manila and its nearby provinces are under the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), the Philippine government has brought home an additional 8,924 overseas Filipinos this week, bringing the total number of repatriated Filipinos to 124,717.
Of the total, 39.8 percent (49,655 OFs) are sea-based while 60.2 percent (75,062 OFs) are land-based, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a report Saturday night.
This week, the DFA repatriated 3,660 overseas Filipinos from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through 13 special commercial repatriation flights and one DFA-chartered flight.
This was made possible as the UAE issued a deadline for those with expired tourist visas to leave the country by August 11, 2020.
The foreign affairs office also saw the return of 2,349 seafarers from all over the world including Bangladesh, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.
With the assistance of its various Foreign Service Posts and the Filipino community abroad, the DFA was able to facilitate the repatriation of stranded Filipinos from remote locations such as Mongolia, Palau, and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The DFA is currently working closely with its missions in Beirut and Tehran on the immediate repatriation of distressed Filipinos in Lebanon and Uzbekistan.