DOLE chief: Duterte approves ₱5-B for OFW aid, repatriation

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Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello. (DOLE-IPS)

President Rodrigo Duterte approved the release of over ₱5 billion for the assistance and repatriation overseas Filipino workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III announced Sunday.

In a press release, Bello said a “huge part” of the funds will be released to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), which handles the repatriation of OFWs.

The labor chief said OWWA pays for the costs of COVID-19 testing upon arrival in the country. It also provides them food assistance, hotel accommodations pending test results, and transportation costs to their home provinces once they test negative for the virus.

On top of the OWWA assistance, the Philippines’ labor department has been extending a one-time ₱10,000 cash aid under its Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program to pandemic-affected OFWs.

But he said ₱2.388 billion of the ₱2.5 billion AKAP funds have already been disbursed to 233,000 land-based and sea-based workers as of Aug. 8. He added the labor department’s Philippine Overseas Labor Offices and OWWA had processed and approved the applications of 267,584 OFWs under the program meant to benefit only 250,000.

Bello had requested an additional ₱2.5 billion to cover 597,469 more OFWs seeking government aid.

The Philippine labor chief said with additional funding, more OFWs will benefit from the AKAP program and even more overseas workers will be repatriated and provided with assistance.