House boosts gov’t efforts to aid 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 to assist 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 influx 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 of OFWs who passed away due to  COVID-19, medical assistance of 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.