Bello rejects calls to use OFWs' OWWA contributions for aid
MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday, June 30, rejected calls that the P18.79-billion trust fund of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) be used to provide aid during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bello reiterated that the government should provide the money, instead of tapping OFW contributions to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) fund.
"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?" he said.
(The government should be the one giving the money to ensure that the needs of our OFWs are addressed. Why, for the first time that they're asking for help, they need help, do we need to tap into their trust fund?)
Bello said the government should ensure additional budget will be provided to the labor department and concerned agencies.
"They (OFWs) 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 (They help drive the economy. That's why we should pay them back. Let's not use their trust fund)," the labor chief said.
In a June 24 hearing, OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said the agency will need a P5-billion supplemental budget to avoid tapping into the trust fund.
P915 million or bulk of the P1.1 billion spent for pandemic response came from the trust fund. The rest were sourced from OWWA's measly P1.15-billion 2020 budget for emergency repatriation.
Cacdac warned that the trust fund may go down to P10 billion by the end of 2020 due to the current costs of pandemic response. It would be depleted by the end of 2021, he said.
"Huwag nating hayaan na maramdaman ng OFW na tinitipid sila sa kabila ng napakalaki nilang naitulong sa ekonomiya natin (Let's not allow OFWs to feel that we're not spending enough for them despite their huge contributions to the economy) in the good and in the best of times," Bello said.
But the prospects of granting a supplemental budget for OWWA seem bleak, as the Constitution requires a new source of revenues. Because of the pandemic, government revenues are down. Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua earlier said he is unsure where the government can get additional funds as well.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has urged OWWA to use the trust fund to repatriate stranded OFWs and provide them with financial and livelihood assistance. Drilon chaired OWWA when he was the labor chief during the Corazon Aquino administration.
The Department of Labor and Employment said around 90,000 OFWs remain stranded overseas, while around 63,000 OFWs have already been repatriated. – Rappler.com