No to use of OFW funds for aid — Bello

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday rejected calls for the use of the trust fund being managed by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to provide for the emergency needs of displaced and repatriated Filipino migrant workers.

“They are sending us more than $30 billion a year. Nakakatulong sa ekonomiya natin. Kaya naman, for once, pay back naman tayo. ‘Wag nating galawin yung pera nila,” Bello said.

The OWWA has asked for a P5 billion supplemental budget from Congress to prolong its fund’s sustainability as it warned of a “largely looming” bankruptcy should it continue to spend for the food, accommodation and transportation of repatriated workers beyond 2021.

At a Senate hearing last week, OWWA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said the agency’s P18.79-billion fund is expected to be reduced to P10 billion by the end of this year, and plunge below P1 billion by the end of 2021 should OFWs continue to be displaced and repatriated.

The OWWA has so far spent more than P800 million for repatriation, accommodation and cash assistance to Covid 19 affected returning OFWs, Cacdac said.

Bello said OWWA funds should just be spent more for its members’ needs, such as livelihood or if they plan to put up businesses and for their children’s education.

“Dapat gobyerno ang magbigay ng pera para matiyak natin na lahat ng kailangan ng ating mga OFW ay matugunan natin… Bakit naman, for the first time na hihingi naman sila ng tulong, nangangailangan sila ng tulong, bakit naman kailangan nating galawin yung pondo nila?… ‘Wag natin gamitin ang pera na ‘yan sa panahong ito,” the labor chief said.

“Government has to take extra steps in order to assure additional budget to help our OFWs,” he added.

He also said, “Huwag nating hayaan na maramdaman ng OFW na tinitipid sila sa kabila ng napakalaki nilang naitulong sa ekonomiya natin in the good and in the best of times.”

According to Bello, about 90,000 OFWs are stranded in other countries, awaiting repatriation, while some 63,000 others have already been brought home.