Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the coronavirus pandemic are in limbo as lawmakers have yet to pass the Bayanihan to Arise As One bill, which would fund the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)’s Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong sa OFWs (AKAP) program.
The bill, also known as Bayanihan 3, is a massive P405.6-billion relief package that would give subsidies and emergency assistance, among others, to Filipinos affected by the pandemic.
In a House hearing on Thursday, July 29, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Cacdac said that funds from the bill’s predecessors, Bayanihan 1 and 2, which previously funded DOLE-AKAP, were already depleted.
The DOLE-AKAP program gives applicant OFWs $200 (P10,000) or its equivalent to the local currency of an OFW’s host country.
During the House committee on overseas workers affairs’ hearing on the situation of OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bayan Muna Representative Ferdinand Gaite asked about the status of the program.
“Anong status nito ngayon (What’s the status of this program)? It’s been more than a year,” Gaite asked.
“Itong AKAP, we depend on Bayanihan 1 and 2 for funding. Fully utilized na ang naibigay sa ‘min in terms of AKAP program – ‘yung 520,000 na ‘yun. We are awaiting ito pong Bayanihan 3,” replied Cacdac.
(We depend on Bayanihan 1 and 2 for funding AKAP. All that we have been given for AKAP has been fully utilized for the 520,000 OFWs. We are awaiting Bayanihan 3.)
In the DOLE’s presentation, current numbers showed that at least 760,138 OFWs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, while there were 518,647 DOLE-AKAP beneficiaries.
This leaves a balance of 241,000 affected OFWs who have not been reached by the DOLE-AKAP program – though OFWs would still need to apply to receive this subsidy. The DOLE did not release recent data on how many applications were received.
Gaite pointed out this “gap” in the numbers presented.
But Cacdac noted there are beneficiaries who have already been approved for the program, but the OWWA is still in the process of remitting the funds to them.
Amid the pandemic, OFWs like those working in the United Arab Emirates face issues such as their contracts lapsing and losing their sources of income. These problems are further compounded by the ongoing travel ban from the Gulf state, with the OFWs finding it difficult to sustain themselves as they risk overstaying their visas.
According to DOLE figures, more than 630,000 distressed OFWs have been repatriated during the pandemic, while almost 50,000 are still displaced and awaiting repatriation worldwide. – Rappler.com