605K displaced OFWs back in PH; up to 40K more could be repatriated, says Bello

Published July 7, 2021, 5:47 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are still being flown home to the Philippines over a year since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic began.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN)

“We’re still expecting 30,000 to 40,000 of our OFWs [to be repatriated]. Eto yung mga nawalan ng trabaho, mga na-displace (These are the ones who lost their jobs, those who were displaced),” Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said during the virtual press briefing on Wednesday, July 7.

“Tuloy-tuloy [yung mga papauwi]. As of today we have 605,000 na naiuwi na ating mga kababayan (The repatriations continue at a steady pace. As of today, we have sent back home 605,000 of our countrymen),” noted Bello.

The DOLE chief said that one reason why this unfortunate homecoming has continued is simply backlog–meaning, some OFWs rendered jobless by the pandemic are still holding out hope that they could regain employment.

“Yung mga iba kasi, bagamat nawalan ng trabaho, hindi pa nagpapakita ng intensyong umuwi. In other words, they’re still hoping na baka sakali makakuha ulit sila ng trabaho (Others, despite having lost their jobs, have yet to signify their desire to go home. In other words, they’re still hoping that they could get another job).” Meanwhile, Bello acknowledged that other OFWs elected to stay put, at least temporarily, after they were deemed eligible for vaccination in their host country.

The expected return of 30,000 to 40,000 OFWs in the coming weeks means that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will contune to be busy, particularly in providing quarantine hotels, food, and transportation services to the displaced Filipinos.

Last May, OWWA–an attached agency of DOLE–was granted a P5.2-billion supplemental budget after it had completely used up its 2021 budget allocation for the returning OFWs needs.

Bello said that OWWA still had some money left from the supplemental budget.

He said that the shortened quarantine period for the returning OFWs–from 14 days down to the current seven days–will ease the financial burden on OWWA in terms of keeping the returnees in quarantine hotels.

The P5.2 billion that was approved by Malacañang was significantly less than the P9.8 billion that the labor agency had originally asked for to cover for such costs until the end of the year.

In this regard, Bello said DOLE could make another request for a supplemental budget should the need arise especially with the continued repatriation of Filipinos.

“I’m very confident naman, si Pangulong Duterte, pagdating sa mga OFW, hindi nagdadalawang isip na tumulong ang ating presidente (I’m very confident, when it comes to our OFWs, President Duterte doesn’t think twice in helping them),” he said.