OWWA: We're undermanned; only 400 officers for 10 million OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is undermanned, Deputy Administrator Arnell Ignacio said Tuesday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Ignacio estimated that the lead agency for migrant workers' welfare employs about 120 workers overseas and 300 in its main office in Pasay.

The 420 employees are tasked with monitoring the situations of over 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) across the globe. Ignacio said the office receives about 300 complaints daily.

However, Ignacio said he was not making excuses for OWWA and its shortcomings.

"I'm telling you this... not to justify kung ano ang nangyari [what happened]. (But) if we want to solve the problem, kailangan ito [we have to be] comprehensive," he said.

He then promised that the OWWA will work on improving services for the OFWs.

"Subukan niyo muna kami uli [Try with us again]. I know there's a lot of things na nagkulang [where we fell short]. We apologize sincerely. We promise we will work even harder for you," he added.

The statement comes after the family of slain domestic worker Joanna Demafelis said they approached the OWWA in February 2017, when they lost contact with her. Her siblings said they did not receive any help.

Demafelis' body was found earlier in January, stored in a freezer in the apartment of her former employer in Kuwait.

Related: Solon wants probe into gov't agencies that overlooked slain OFW case

OWWA Chief Hans Cacdac said they will investigate officers who supposedly brushed Joanna's family off.

"Titignan din namin kung sino itong mga empleyado namin na sumagot ng ganitong klase dahil hindi nararapat iyon," Cacdac said on Monday.

[Translation: We will look into who among our employees answered this way, because that was not appropriate.]

Ignacio added Demafalis' family would receive about ₱270,000 in financial aid, including ₱100,000 for livelihood and ₱120,000 for Joanna's funeral.

However, the body cannot be brought back to Manila until the investigation in Kuwait is over.

Demafalis' case, along with an ongoing probe into the deaths of seven other Filipinas in Kuwait, prompted a total ban on deployment to the Gulf State and the repatriation of hundreds of workers.

Related: Hundreds of OFWs from Kuwait back in PH

The OWWA is offering an initial assistance of ₱5,000 for repatriated workers and ₱20,000 for livelihood start-ups. The agency will also shoulder transportation expenses and host seminars to help workers get back on their feet.

Ignacio will join a team from the OWWA that will check on the conditions of workers in the Middle East on February 20.

Watch The Source's full interview with Ignacio here.