P10B more up to 2021 needed for returning OFWs


    THE Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) needs at least P10 billion in supplemental funding up to next year to sustain its assistance for Filipinos working abroad.

    OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac yesterday said about half of the agency’s budget for this year has either been spent or is already allotted for assistance programs in light of the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

    He said of the P18.6 billion private trust fund that OWWA administers, P1.2 billion has been spent to help Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the first three months of the health crisis.

    He said the agency is set to spend P6 billion more for financial and other forms of COVID assistance by the end of the year, and P2 billion for the scholarship package for children of OFWs.

    Cacdac said the almost P10 billion balance will not be enough to sustain OWWA’s various programs.

    “We are asking Congress P5 billion in supplemental fund this year and an equal amount for next year,’’ he said in a media briefing on the plight of seafarers during the pandemic.

    As the agency’s contribution to the government’s COVID response efforts, OWWA pays for the daily meals of about 8,000 OFWs, many of them seafarers, including those with contracts with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and those who have not heard from their manning agencies. The bill for the meals is already around P80 million since March 15, Cacdac said.

    It likewise pays for the accommodation of about 1,000 OFWs who are billeted in various hotels.

    Cacdac said OWWWA is likewise preparing livelihood assistance for the OFWs.

    Cacdac said 60 percent of some 47,000 repatriated OFWs have already received their Department of Labor’s AKAP cash assistance benefits. Likewise, some 66,000 have been given free transportation to return home since May 15 by chartered buses, planes and boats. Over half of them or 34,000 are seafarers.

    Some 13,000 seafarers who have remained stranded in cruise ships in Manila Bay have also already gone home and only about 1,000 remain on board.

    “It would be good if our funds go to livelihood programs rather than to hotels,” Cacdac said.
    According to the International Maritime Organization or IMO, the COVID-19 pandemic has significant impacts on the shipping industry and on seafarers themselves.

    “Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers, which has led to a growing humanitarian crisis as well as significant concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping,” IMO said, as it urged governments to designate seafarers as key workers so they can travel between the ships that constitute their workplace, and their countries of residence.

    “Seafarers have been collateral victims of the crisis, as travel restrictions have left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships,” it said.