LABOR Secretary Silvestre Bello III yesterday said President Duterte has approved the release of an additional P5 billion to assist overseas Filipino workers affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“He has given OFWs the necessary funds we need for their repatriation and assistance,” Bello said, adding: “I have directed our Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and OWWA 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.”
Bello said part of the additional budget is set to go to the one-time cash assistance program for OFWs amounting to $200 or P10,000. He said more OFWs will benefit from the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) for OFWs Program.
The labor chief said the initial P2.5 billion AKAP funds is nearly depleted, with assistance having been provided to more than 233,000 land-based and sea-based OFWs, with the disbursed amount set at P2.388 billion as of August 8.
With the additional funding, Bello said the program originally meant to benefit 250,000 OFWs may be able to provide assistance to majority of the 597,469 OFW-applicants.
Bello said part of the additional budget will be released to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to finance the repatriation of OFWs displaced due to lockdowns and closure of establishments overseas.
Bello said it will also allow OWWA to further shoulder the cost of swab tests of OFWs upon arrival in the country, their food and accommodation in hotels while awaiting test results, as well as the transport to their home provinces once tested negative of the virus.
Bello said OWWA has provided necessary assistance to 129,491 repatriated OFWs so far.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the number of OFWs repatriated since the outbreak of COVID-19 has reached more than 124,000.
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said 124,717 overseas Filipinos have been repatriated, including 8, 924 last week.
Of this, 49,655 or 39.8 percent are sea-based workers while 75,062 or 60.2 percent are land-based. – With Ashzel Hachero