MANILA, June 25 (Mabuhay) — Repatriate all 150,000 overseas Filipinos affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic first and let’s talk about funding later.

Thus said Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) after OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac admitted that the ongoing repatriation of OFWs, if it continues next year, will lead them to bankruptcy.

“We are not quite sure if we will hold on to the money given that 2021 may be worse or go out and provide the fullest assistance to the OFWs,” Cacdac told Drilon during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment chaired by Sen. Joel Villanueva on Wednesday.

But Drilon, who formerly chaired OWWA, insisted that the agency should use its existing P18.8 billion funds to bring home all 150,000 stranded OFWs and give them financial and livelihood assistance.

“I strongly suggest that OWWA provide fullest assistance to the OFWs. That’s their money. Nobody expected this. Ang kailangan ay matulungan muna natin ang ating mga kababayan sa ibayong dagat,” said Drilon.

The OWWA Fund is principally sourced from OFW membership contributions, which could and should be utilized to help OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them adequate financial, livelihood and other assistance, Drilon noted.

Cacdac said that the OWWA fund may decrease to P1 billion by the end of 2021 if the situation continues to worsen.

To repatriate, quarantine and bring home all 150,000 OFWs, Cacdac said OWWA would need around P4.5 billion, which Drilon said its current funds could still absorb. The OWWA still has P18.8 billion in trust funds.

“The way I look at it you would still have sufficient funds in your coffers to be able to respond to this,” he added.

“I am sure the Congress will be willing to assist OWWA in making it financially viable if it is able to show that in these times of crisis, OWWA can respond properly. We are more than willing to help if you are able to execute your mandate well,” said Drilon.

The former labor secretary authored Senate Resolution No.417 which calls for an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the adequateness and sufficiency of the OWWA assistance to OFWs affected by the pandemic.

The minority leader also urged the OWWA to “think out of the box” in coming up with ways to reach and assist the country’s modern-day heroes as he lamented reports of poor accommodation and slow processing of quarantine certificates.

Drilon also vowed to review the laws that restrict OWWA’s investment after it was found out that the OWWA only earned less than 3% from its more than P18 billion investment in 2019 “in order to help the agency to become financially viable.”

He said he is looking at whether the investment system for the Social Security System and Government Service Insurance System should be adopted for OWWA. (MNS)

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