By Prince Golez
President Rodrigo Duterte has green-lighted the release of P5 billion in additional funding for the repatriation and assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said.
DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Sunday said a “huge part” of the fresh funds will be released to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) which undertakes the repatriation of displaced Filipinos due to lockdowns and closure of establishments overseas.
“Dahil po mahal na mahal ni Pangulong Duterte ang ating mga bagong bayani, ibinigay po nya ang kailangan nating dagdag na pondo para sa repatriation at tulong para sa ating mga OFW,” Bello said in a press release.
Aside from repatriation assistance, the OWWA will also shoulder the cost of Covid-19 tests of OFWs upon arrival in the country, their food, and accommodation in hotels while awaiting the test results and transportation expenses to their home provinces.
The agency has so far sent home close to 130,000 OFWs since May 15 via land, sea, and air transport.
Also, the DOLE has been providing a one-time cash aid amounting to P10,000 under Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) to OFWs affected by the global pandemic.
The P2.5 billion AKAP funds are almost depleted with assistance already provided to more than 233,000 land-based and sea-based workers, with a disbursed amount of P2.388 billion as of August 8.
DOLE’s Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and OWWA had processed and approved the applications of 267,584 OFWs under the program meant to benefit only 250,000.
Bello had requested a P2.5 billion additional fund to augment the requirements of about 597,469 OFWs requesting assistance.
With additional funding, the labor chief said more OFWs will benefit from the AKAP program and even more overseas Filipinos will be repatriated.
“I have directed our POLOs (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) 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 concluded.