House boosts DFA fund for repatriating OFWs

THE House of Representatives has augmented the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund through the “Bayanihan to Recover as One” or Bayanihan 2 in order to boost the government’s program for assisting overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) amid the global pandemic.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the government needs to infuse an additional amount to the ATN Fund to sustain repatriation efforts, medical assistance, shipment of remains, and other welfare programs for distressed workers.

Cayetano earlier assured OFWs waiting to be repatriated that the House of Representatives will work hard to find solutions to augment the funds to bring them home at the soonest time possible.

DFA officials told lawmakers of the dwindling ATN Fund in a briefing on June 26, citing the surge of OFWs requesting to come home because of the pandemic.

On July 14, DFA officials told the House committee on public accounts that the department needs funding to repatriate more than 100,000 OFWs who remain stranded abroad.

In a report submitted to the House on August 14, the DFA reported that the remaining balance of the ATN fund was only around P118 million.

In the same report, the DFA also said its Office of the Undersecretary  for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) and various Foreign Service Posts have facilitated the repatriation of 134,178 OFWs, of whom 52,206 were sea-based while 81,972 were land-based.

Under Bayanihan 2, an amount of P820 million has been allocated for the augmentation of the ATN Fund for “repatriation-related expenses, shipment of remains and cremains (cremated bodies) f OFWs who passed away due to COVID-19, medical assistance to OFWs, and other assistance that may be provided for OFWs who are affected by the pandemic.”

“We commend the DFA for heeding the call of the House of Representatives when we asked them to step up the repatriation of our overseas Filipino workers. After the July 14 hearing in the Congress, we witnessed how they doubled their effort to successfully bring home around 134,178 OFWs as of today,” Cayetano said.

“With the additional funds, we hope to bring home more of our kababayans by September and December. Ibinabalik natin kung ano ‘yung nawala para mas marami pang kababayan natin ang matulungan ng DFA,” he added.

The DFA said it is expecting another 90,969 OFWs to arrive by September and another 100,000 by December this year.

Through the ATN Fund, the DFA was able to charter 40 flights beginning February to bring home more than 10,000 distressed OFWs, most of whom have no financial means to pay for their airfare.

Using the same fund, the department was also able to assist more than 123,000 OFWs who could not be accommodated in the DFA-chartered flights due to limitations in seating capacity or physical distancing requirements.

The ATN Fund is also used in the maintenance of shelters where wards are temporarily housed as they await their repatriation, immigration penalties, and other related costs for exit visas of distressed OFWs.

Other ATN services include outreach services such as the “Embassy on Wheels,” welfare assistance, medical assistance, and medical repatriation to distressed OFWs.