House to boost funds for OFWs' repatriation

THE House of Representatives vowed to augment funds for the repatriation of more than 100,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who remain stranded in different countries.

Chairman of the House committee on public accounts and Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said the House will include in the proposed Bayanihan 2 or We Recover as One law the additional funds needed for repatriation.

Defensor said they expect to approve the Bayanihan 2 when session opens next week.

The solon said he has conducted two hearings on the repatriation of OFWs who have been stranded abroad since the lockdown in March.

“We have to get all of our workers who have been rendered jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic home to be with their loved ones. We can appropriate in Bayanihan 2 additional funds for their repatriation and reintegration once they are here,” he said.

During the committee’s second meeting last week, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola informed the panel that the DFA has used up about P770 million of its P1-billion assistance to nationals fund for the return of stranded OFWs.

She said the remaining P230 million would be exhausted by next month.

he said one charter flight costs between P12 million and P13 million.

DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. plans to divert his department’s P1-billion building retrofitting budget to its repatriation fund.

Arriola also said there are 107,000 OFWs still to be repatriated.

Defensor said more than 50 charter and commercial flights have brought in tens of thousands of OFWs since Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his committee appealed for the government’s task force on COVID19 response to allow more inbound planes transporting stranded workers.

“The DFA has promised to fly in an additional 50,000 OFWs this month, while other agencies, including the Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, are prepared to receive, process and help them, give them aid and get them to their families,” he added.

Those awaiting repatriation include about 5,000 in the United Arab Emirates and another 5,000 in Qatar who have already bought tickets on commercial flights on their own.

“They are just waiting for the green light from our COVID-19 response task force to board their planes and be home at no cost to our government,” Defensor stressed.

The task force has increased its limit on overseas Filipinos allowed to fly in from 1,000 to 3,000 a day to accommodate more returning OFWs.