OFWs not covered by DOLE aid appeal for help

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 10) — Some Overseas Filipino workers who are not eligible for the Labor Department's cash assistance to workers displaced by COVID-19 are appealing to the national government to reconsider the aid guidelines.

At least two of the OFWs say they grapple with limited work opportunities in countries where the pandemic has resulted in job losses. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were over 2 million Filipinos employed abroad.

OFWs who will not get the Department of Labor and Employment's one-time cash assistance, intended for those affected by the outbreak, are asking that the guidelines be adjusted, to include particularly those that are not among the listed "priority countries" and are under "no-work, no-pay" rules.

Geebee Bulanon, a full-time teacher at a learning center in Hanoi, Vietnam, aired her concern about the lack of clarity and communication on the eligibility of OFWs who are set to receive aid from the government.

"We have received some information from the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) Facebook page about financial aid for OFWs, but the memo does not include Vietnam among the priority countries," Bulanon told CNN Philippines.

She added that those who have been in contact with the Philippine embassy were informed that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration had not provided any guidelines for such aid.

"The biggest disappointment, though, is that it seems the aid will only be provided to OFWs who asked to be repatriated," Bulanon noted.

Bulanon said her employer had already informed her that a no-work, no-pay policy will be implemented as classes had to be called off during the outbreak.

"Wala kaming maasahan. Ano ba ang plano ng OWWA sa mga katulad namin? May financial assistance ba kaming makukuha? As an OFW, buwan buwan rin kaming nagpapadala ng panustos sa Pilipinas," she added.

[Translation: We can't turn to anybody. What is OWWA's plan for us? Will we even receive financial assistance? As an OFW, we are also expected to give monthly assistance to our loved ones in the Philippines.]

Others affected by the provision aired similar sentiments.

“Mga kababayan kong OFW, malinaw pa sa sabaw ng pusit sa interview kay Secretary Bello na hindi kasama ang mga OFW na No work No pay. Nakakalungkot isipin. Lahat naman naging apektado ng COVID-19. Sana nilahat na lang nila,” Mark Villa said in a Facebook thread.

[Translation: My fellow OFWs, what Secretary Bello said in an interview that OFWs under a no-work, no-pay scheme will not be assisted is clearer than a squid stew. It is saddening to think of it. Everybody is affected by COVID-19. They should have just included all of us.]

The DOLE earlier promised a one-time financial assistance of $200 (equivalent to P10,000) for affected OFWs through the Department Order 212 or its AKAP program.

The program only covers regular and undocumented OFWs, qualified undocumented OFWs, and “balik-manggagawa” or those who cannot return to their host country due to lockdowns.

The DOLE said it can only provide aid to qualified OFWs living in "priority countries" for now.

In the Middle East and Africa, these are Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

For Europe and the Americas, the only countries listed are Canada, Cyprus, Italy, Germany, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.

Qualified countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region include Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told CNN Philippines that they can only consider those who are not part of the coverage if there is a remaining balance from the cash aid for disenfranchised OFWs that were initially rolled out.

“As soon as the displaced OFWs are given their cash assistance, and there is still cash balance, they can be considered,” Bello said.

The DOLE earlier proposed to the national government that some 150,000 OFWs will only receive the grant.

The Department of Foreign Affairs bared Thursday that over 600 OFWs have already contracted the virus, with fatalities now at 72.

There are already 171 recoveries from the infection while 364 OFWs are still undergoing treatment.

CNN Philippines' Janine Peralta and Glee Jalea contributed to this report.