By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN
Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon has urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to facilitate the speedy repatriation of about 150,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) that were displaced by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Drilon made the remarks during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor after OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac admitted that the ongoing repatriation of OFWs, if it continues next year, will lead them to “bankruptcy.”
Drilon advised Cacdac that the agency should use its existing P18.8-billion funds to bring home all 150,000 stranded OFWs and give them financial and livelihood assistance.
According to Cacdac, he is not sure if OWWA can hold on to the money “given that 2021 may be worse or go out and provide the fullest assistance to the OFWs.”
But Drilon, who used chaired OWWA during the Aquino administration, insisted that OWWA should provide fullest assistance to the OFWs.
“That’s their money. Nobody expected this. Ang kailangan ay matulungan muna natin ang ating mga kababayan sa ibayong dagat,” said Drilon.
The OWWA fund is principally sourced from OFW membership contributions, which could and should be utilized to help OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them adequate financial, livelihood and other assistance, Drilon noted.
Cacdac said the OWWA fund may decrease to P1 billion by the end of 2021 if the situation continues to worsen.
To repatriate, quarantine and bring home all 150,000 OFWs, Cacdac stressed that OWWA would need around P4.5 billion, which Drilon said its current funds could still absorb.
The OWWA still has P18.8 billion in trust funds.
According to Drilon, OWWA “still have sufficient funds” in their coffers to be able to respond to the crisis.
“I am sure the Congress will be willing to assist OWWA in making it financially viable if it is able to show that in these times of crisis, OWWA can respond properly. We are more than willing to help if you are able to execute your mandate well,” he added.
Drilon also urged the OWWA to “think out of the box” in coming up with ways to reach and assist the country’s modern day heroes as he lamented reports of poor accommodation and slow processing of quarantine certificates.
The former Labor secretary also vowed to review the laws that restrict OWWA’s investment after it was found out that the OWWA only earned less than 3 percent from its more than P18 billion investment in 2019 “in order to help the agency to become financially viable.”