Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday urged the Senate to review the government’s repatriation and assistance programs for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Lima has filed Senate Resolution No. 497 saying it is necessary for the Senate to look into the government programs for OFWs during this time of crisis, amid reports of continued delays and inefficiencies in their implementation.
“There is an apparent lack of true understanding that the plight of the OFWs only begins with repatriation – that they would need further assistance to rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves back to the society upon return to the Philippines. Bringing them home is but a step, not the whole process,” De Lima said in a statement.
“Months after the implementation of the repatriation program, the concerned agencies have yet to come up with a coordinated and holistic approach to assist displaced OFWs who have signified interest to return to the Philippines to be with their families amid the pandemic,” she noted.
De Lima pointed out that a significant portion of displaced OFWs have fared no better in the Philippines than abroad as they have, at times, experienced degrading treatment from the government agencies that are expected to ensure their health and well-being, upon repatriation.
“These include OFWs undergoing prolonged quarantine procedures due to delays and inefficiencies in testing and processing of documents, having to camp underneath a flyover for days at a time due to vague and contradictory policies concerning stranded individuals, and having to deal with limited job prospects and potentially extended periods of unemployment upon their return,” she said.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) had estimated that nearly 2.2 billion workers, representing 68 percent of the global workforce, are now living in countries with recommended or required workplace closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the unprecedented impact on global economies, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) disclosed that around 400,000 OFWs have been laid off in various countries while some estimated that the figures could reach as high as one million in 2021.
As of June 29, data from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed there are now 8,467 total confirmed COVID-19 cases among OFWs across 59 countries or regions.
Amid these concerns, De Lima said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is seemingly oblivious of the true nature of the plight of OFWs who are forced by the global pandemic to come home.
OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac had said that the P5-billion allotment and cash allocation which the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released last June 24 to augment the Emergency Repatriation Fund of the DoLE-OWWA will be utilized for “food, accommodation, and transport of the repatriated OFWs.”
But De Lima noted the situation for OFWs in the Philippines is fraught with too much risk and uncertainty, forcing 191,000 displaced OFWs to forego a return to the country and take their chances abroad instead.
“The evident distrust and lack of confidence from a large contingent of displaced OFWs abroad in the government’s capacity to take care of their needs during this time of pandemic is indicative of its overall failure to adequately address the needs of the Filipino people, OFWs included, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.