70,000 OFWs lose jobs over COVID-19
70,000 OFWs lose jobs over COVID-19
By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter
The Philippines expects 45,000 overseas workers to return home in May and June, adding to the 26,700 who have already been repatriated since the coronavirus outbreak, according to a news report.
Said figures are even conservative as the medium- and long-term effects have not been taken into account, as admitted by the national chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). However, in a policy brief authored by an Ateneo de Manila University, about 300,000 to 400,000 OFWs are estimated to be affected by the pandemic, from pay cuts to layoffs to eventual repatriation.
The country is anticipating balikbayans who work in cruise ships, hotels, restaurants and retail establishments that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, while the construction sector is starting to report some job losses.
OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac cited the displacement of 25,000 Filipino crewmen and the return of 25,000 more until June.
Cacdac said OWWA is seeking $70 million CAD (PhP2.5 billion) in additional funding from Congress so the agency could allocate its current trust funds to the post-lockdown program for OFWs or overseas Filipino workers who cannot immediately go back to their jobs overseas.
“We are not in the red, OWWA is financially healthy. But we want congressional assistance to augment our funds, which will surely be needed by the members after the lockdown,” Cacdac said in a live-streamed press briefing.
At present, OWWA is overseeing 110 quarantine facilities in Metro Manila and nearby provinces while appealing for Filipino workers’ understanding over quarantine rules as some have aired on social media their disappointment on the lack of an inter-agency organization.
Non-OFWs to shoulder costs
Meanwhile, returning Filipinos who are not overseas workers will have to shoulder their expenses in government quarantine facilities, Malacañang earlier said.
“Kung kayo po ay isang OFW, iyan po ay libre, babayaran ng OWWA [Overseas Workers Welfare Administration]. Kung kayo po ay hindi OFW, kayo po ang magbabayad ng quarantine facility,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a separate virtual presser on May 11.
Roque said coronavirus testing is among the requirements for all arriving overseas Filipinos and foreign nationals. They are also placed under quarantine in government facilities for 14 days while waiting for results, Roque explained.
“Pagkalabas po ng resulta at ikaw ay positive, diretso po sa ospital o di naman ay sa We Heal as One Center,” Roque said.
(If the result is positive, they will go straight to hospitals or to a We Heal as One Center.)
If the individual is negative for the coronavirus, Roque said they may return home.
‘Bring them home’
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) resumed its repatriation program following the reopening of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) reopening on May 11.
However, resumption of operations in Manila’s airport is only allowed for distressed Filipinos overseas returning to the Philippines. Foreign tourists and non-residents remain restricted from entering the country except for diplomats and heads or members of international missions.
Limited inbound charted flights are scheduled for now, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) as NAIA can only accommodate 400 passengers a day and to observe physical distancing protocols for all arriving passengers.
“Why should we allow 400 to 800 Filipinos or even 3,000 to return home every day? Because they have the constitutional, absolute and total right to come home that no power can suspend, slow down or, in any way, restrict,” explained Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a tweet. “Government has only one power: To bring them home.”
He said the DFA has brought home “tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers the instant they became jobless.”
“It’s strained our quarantine and testing capacities back home, but I don’t care [that it did because] I won’t leave our people to die in deserts. Period,” Locsin added.