‘Provide P10,000 cash grant, other aid to repatriated OFWs’ --- Sen. Villanueva

Senator Joel Villanueva on Monday welcomed the P5-billion supplemental budget the government has released to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), saying the additional funds would go a long way in helping repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor and employment, said he hopes the budget would also enable DOLE to continue providing the one-time cash grant of P10,000 to repatriated OFWs, on top of the cost of repatriation, testing, lodging and transportation to their home provinces.

“We express our gratitude to our government for heeding our call for additional funding, which we have raised since May in the course of the weekly reports to Congress as provided by the Bayanihan 1 law,” Villanueva said in a statement.

“Mapapagpatuloy pa po ng gobyerno ang pagpapauwi ng mga OFW natin na kasalukuyang stranded sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo sa tulong ng P5 billion na karagdagang pondo para sa DOLE, (the government can continue helping our OFWs who are currently stranded in different parts of the world return home with the additional P5-billion funding for DOLE),” the senator added.

The senator noted that the initial funding of DOLE’s Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong (AKAP)—amounting to P2.5-billion—is nearing depletion with the agency disbursing around P2.388-billion as of Aug. 8 to over 233,000 OFW beneficiaries.

According to DOLE, both the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POL) around the world have processed and approved 267,584 applications.

Initially, AKAP intended to help 250,000 migrant workers. But the number of applications swelled to about 597,469, prompting Bello to seek additional funding.

Villanueva said the fresh funding would, likewise, allow OWWA to continue providing for the needs of repatriated OFWs, particularly seafarers who called the government’s attention in June for supposed unequal treatment between land-based and sea-based workers.

Seafarers’ groups earlier took issue with DOLE’s guidance that recruiters of sea-based workers must take care of their recruits, while land-based workers can run straight to OWWA for repatriation, testing, and transportation.

During a Senate labor committee hearing, Villanueva sought DOLE for equal treatment and assistance to all OFWs.

Villanueva said the surge in applications for relief, both coming from domestic and overseas-based workers, reflect the pressing need for the government to continue prioritizing labor recovery programs that would help jumpstart the economy, given its worst crash recorded in nearly three decades.

Villanueva appealed to the DOLE to help the Senate pursue the passage of a measure that will put in place a comprehensive labor recovery package to help OFWs who wish to return to the Philippines have sufficient resources to start a new livelihood.

“More than the latest infusion of funds to finance the repatriation of OFWs, we continue to appeal to the government to expand further our effort to implement a variety of labor recovery programs and provide the necessary budget for these efforts to make it happen,” the lawmaker said.