What’s the DOLE plan for OFWs?

By: Jodee A. Agoncillo – Reporter / @jagoncilloINQ

Senators on Thursday sought from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) a complete national recovery plan for the 478,839 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the novel coronavirus.

“After the P30,000 financial assistance, what’s next? I have yet to see a national recovery program for our labor workers affected by COVID-19,” asked Sen. Imee Marcos during a Senate budget hearing with the committee on labor.

Marcos asked Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III about the concerns of repatriated OFWs who have remained unemployed seven months into the pandemic with some OFWs not even getting the cash assistance as their applications remain pending at the DOLE.

Ongoing programs

Bello replied the DOLE has long-term programs, such as the Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES), an employment recovery program, a reintegration program which entitles grantees a P10,000-financial assistance, livelihood assistance, and education and scholarship programs for their children.

DOLE’s P12 billion worth of COVID-19 response programs include the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (Camp), the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Displaced/Disadvantaged Workers, Barangay Ko, Bahay Ko, and its emergency repatriation programs.

“We need to know [DOLE’s concrete] plans, programs … We cannot go back to SPES. We need to have new plans, programs as many students cannot work. There are no programs for women. Those who lost jobs in export processing zones,” Marcos said.

“There is no long term plan. If we stick with SPES, it’s just business as usual as if there is no COVID-19,” she added.

Thousands infected

Of 478,839 OFWs affected, 8,880 were infected with the disease; 469,959 were displaced; 104,813 opted to stay onsite while some 230,424 were repatriated. There are 4,536 migrant workers who have recovered while 848 had died, some of them were transported back to the Philippines, Bello said.

There are 13,035 OFWs for repatriation, 70,647 stranded, while 51,040 requested for repatriation.

Bello said those who had COVID-19 were also given a P10,000 cash assistance, medical assistance, food and other needs through its CAMP program.

There are also 556 Filipinos who were studying in the US whose stay was cut short due to the pandemic, and 448 temporary visitors who were repatriated by the government through DOLE’s efforts.

Asstistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said they are currently updating information for the payment and assistance of OFWs. Around 30,000 or 40 percent of the repatriated OFWs, she said, have college student-dependent who may avail of the DOLE’s scholarship grant worth P1 billion.

Billions spent

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) chief Hans Leo Cadacdac said the P5-billion budget given to the Owwa was from the General Appropriations Act of 2020 and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

The Owwa, he said, received the initial tranche of P2 billion which has already been fully utilized for transportation, food and accommodation of OFWs, funeral and cremation services and transportation of cadavers affected by COVID-19.

The second tranche of P3 billion was received today, he said.

Since March, the Owwa has helped stranded OFWs and land-based and sea-based cruise ship workers, and provided them with food, transportation, medical assistance.

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