If pandemic persists, OWWA funds to be depleted end of 2021

Aika Rey
The costs for hotel, food, and transportation for overseas Filipino workers are not sustainable, says OWWA chief Hans Cacdac

DEPLETING FUNDS. Repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers and seafarers queue to board buses at Paranaque Integrated Exchange Terminal after their prolonged mandatory quarantine on May 28, 2020. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The trust fund for overseas Filipino workers might be depleted by the end of 2021, if the current pandemic response continues, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Cacdac said.

In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, June 24, Cacdac explained the P18.8 billion OWWA fund – which comes from OFW contributions – may go down to P10 billion by the end of 2020, due to the current costs of response.

OWWA has already spent P1.1 billion in total. Some P915 million of which came from the trust fund were spent on the hotels for returning OFWs (P784 million), food (P132 million), transportation (P46 million). The rest were sourced from OWWA’s measly P1.15-billion 2020 budget for the emergency repatriation fund (P152 million).

The agency spent around P29,000 per person for the 28,000 OFWs who were billeted at hotels. OWWA had provided food assistance to 70,000 overseas Filipinos and to another 70,000 seafarers stuck in the Philippines due to the lockdown in March.

At the rate that this response is going, Cacdac estimated that they will be spending around P4 billion to P5 billion more.

“We’re worried about the future. If we’ll continue to spend for hotel costs, food, and transport until December, the trust fund could be down to P10 billion or P11 billion by the end of the year,” he said.

And if the pandemic persists, Cacdac added, “By the end of 2021, we will be down to less than P1 billion. That’s not even assuming that our reintegration program will be in full swing.”

With the coronavirus threat, the government is expecting around 150,000 more repatriates to come home. House lawmakers even expected the numbers to swell up to 300,000, Cacdac told senators on Wednesday.

The increasing number of repatriations also means lower collections, Cacdac said. Collections are already down by 46% this year, he said.

Sustainability issue

Cacdac said he requested from Congress around P5 billion to cover costs for food, accommodation, and transportation.

“We could sustain along these lines. We could devote more funds for programs for reintegration and financial assistance for OFWs and [preserve] the funds at the same time,” Cacdac said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked whether the agency’s investments is making enough returns to keep the trust fund sustainable.

But Cacdac said that from the P18.5 billion OWWA has invested in government securities and financial institutions, return of investment was only at around P609 million. Cacdac attributed this to the limitations in the OWWA charter.

“We will see if the system in SSS (Social Security System) and GSIS (Government Service Insurance System) could be adopted,” said Drilon.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that there are a total of 345,000 OFWs affected by the pandemic, but 191,000 of them refused to come home.

As of June 17, over 53,000 OFWs have already returned to the Philippines – this makes up about a quarter of the expected repatriates. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.