OWWA in danger of bankruptcy if COVID-19 pandemic continues to displace OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 24) — At least two government agencies in the forefront of assisting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are running low on funds.

In the Senate Committee on Labor hearing on Wednesday, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Cacdac said that repatriation expenses are going up as their revenue collections from OFWs are going down.

Cacdac admitted that if the ongoing repatriation of overseas Filipino workers continues until next year, the agency will be bankrupt by the end of 2021.

OWWA currently has a budget of P18.8 billion.

“We are spending for hotels. We’re spending for food. We’re spending for transport. Wala pa ho diyan iyong financial assistance, which we will also embark on. We will be down to around P10 billion by the end of the year,” Cacdac explained. "The issue at the outset of sustainability is very huge. It's looming large. We can be down to P10B by the end of year and less than P1B by the end of 2021."

Cacdac adds revenue collections have already gone down to 46% from January to April this year.

Consequently, Cacdac said OFW remittances this year are expected to go down by 30% to 40% or a P10 billion peso decline from the P33.5 billion peso remittances last year.

“We started the year very well. January was a very strong year in terms of investments and collections but it tapered off and we are on a downward trend,” Cacdac explains.

Cacdac sought the advise of senators on how to proceed given their financial situation. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told OWWA to continue the speedy repatriation of OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I strongly suggest that OWWA provide fullest assistance to the OFWs. That’s their money. Nobody expected this. Ang kailangan ay matulungan muna natin ang ating mga kababayan sa ibayong dagat,” said Drilon, a former OWWA Chairman.

The OWWA fund is sourced from membership contributions of OFWs.

Drilon pointed out that OWWA’s current budget is still sufficient for the repatriation and quarantine program this year.

OWWA said 150,000 OFWs have expressed the desire to be repatriated. The repatriation and quarantine of these OFWs will cost OWWA about P4.5 billion pesos.

“I am sure the Congress will be willing to assist OWWA in making it financially viable if it is able to show that in these times of crisis, OWWA can respond properly. We are more than willing to help if you are able to execute your mandate well,” Drilon said.

Similarly, the Department of Foreign Affairs said its budget is also running low.

The DFA has already spent 66 percent of its P1 billion Assistance to Nationals Fund. Undersecretary Sarah Arriola said they have to bring home 167,626 stranded OFWs in the next 2 to 3 months — with majority coming from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“We are afraid that if we continue to charter the planes, because there are more people stranded, our funds would run out in August,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola tells senators.

The DFA reports that more than 88,000 OFWs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia and 50,000 more in the UAE.