EVERY Filipino aims for a better life. Whether they toil in the hinterlands or in our concrete jungles, our kababayan have one common aspiration: to have work that provides them a steady source of income and allow them to lead a comfortable life. Some choose to go into business while others prefer the corporate world. And yes, there are millions of our countrymen who have taken a leap of faith to work abroad. I’m certain many ordinary Filipinos view overseas employment as a ticket to a more prosperous future.
But no overseas employment is really ever permanent. Political turmoil, natural disasters or calamities, accidents, workplace or employment issues, or just plain weariness can put an end to one’s overseas job. And with our OFWs serving as a lifeline for many families in the Philippines, an abrupt or unexpected end to overseas employment can be a traumatic experience.
This is why the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) headed by Secretary Silvestre Bello III has made it a priority to bolster a key strategy known as the “Reintegration Program,” which is primarily geared for returning Filipino migrant workers.
So, what is reintegration? Reintegration is the process of re-inserting our Filipino migrant workers back into Philippine society and enabling him or her to become a productive member of the community and to participate again in the social, cultural, economic and political life of his or her residence.
For overseas Filipinos who have been away for a long time, adjusting to life back home is not an easy task. At the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), we devised a program precisely to help our OFWs ease their way back into their communities. For one, our reintegration program has already been rolled out in select OWWA offices overseas so that our migrant workers can seek assistance even before they come home. Our welfare officers conduct trainings and briefings for our OFWs abroad who have decided to return to the country for good. Upon their arrival in the Philippines, our returning OFWs can augment their reintegration with the help of our 17 regional welfare offices scattered throughout the country.
OWWA’s reintegration program has two categories: “on-site” and “in-country.” The on-site program is conducted at OWWA offices abroad and includes training sessions and seminars on value formation, personal finance, entrepreneurial development, and techno-skills. The in-country reintegration program, meanwhile, is implemented by OWWA’s regional welfare offices through job referrals, business counselling, community-organizing and other initiatives to help them become economically self-sufficient.
While reintegration is ideally suited to gainfully employed migrants workers who eventually plan to come home permanently, it is our distressed OFWs who have returned involuntarily due to the mass lay-offs in their country of employment that are the target of OWWA’s reintegration efforts, such as in the case of our displaced migrant workers from Saudi Arabia.
As oil prices plummeted from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to below $30 in 2016, construction projects in Saudi Arabia have fallen off dramatically along with the drop in oil revenue. The Saudi government cut spending and delayed or stopped payments to several private contractors since early 2016, forcing many big companies employing thousands of Filipinos to cut jobs, and leaving many of our OFWs without any salary and visas to exit the kingdom.
After the Duterte administration took over, Labor Secretary Bello immediately visited the stranded workers in Saudi Arabia and assured them of the government’s help. Keeping his promise, Bello, as chair of the OWWA board, immediately established the Relief Assistance Program (RAP) – a program which provides financial assistance to affected OFWs and their families, food and toiletries at the job sites, as well as post-repatriation assistance to those who have already returned to the country.
As of 12 March 2017, some P427 million from the relief assistance program has been disbursed by OWWA to 19,062 OFW beneficiaries, including those workers who have already been repatriated and those who remain stranded at their job sites in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Around 9,697 OFW families have also availed of RAP benefits amounting to some P61million, bringing the total disbursement of financial aid from July 2016 up to March 2017 to P489million plus.
As part of the Duterte administration’s commitment to bring our stranded OFWs back home, 3,525 workers have been repatriated since July 2016. Moreover, two OWWA augmentation teams were sent to Saudi Arabia to assist in the processing of RAP applications and in the distribution of approximately P2.3 million worth of food and hygiene kits to stranded OFWs.
But OWWA’s assistance does not end with RAP. To help in the economic reintegration of our distressed and displaced OFW kababayan from Saudi Arabia residing in the NCR, Regions 3 and 4-A, OWWA slated a three-day pre-registration activity on March 13, 14, and 15, 2017, for the Job and Livelihood Fair to be held on March 28 at the Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC), Quezon City.
Interested OFWs may register online at “www.jobphilnet.gov.ph,” or by visiting the OWWA offices in NCR, Regions 3 and 4-A. “Walk-in” applicants will also be accepted. This job fair is a collaborative effort of DOLE-NCR, POEA, Bureau of Local Employment, DOLE-NCR and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO).
With 40employers both for overseas and local employment participating in the job fair, we anticipate the on-the-spot hiring of our OFWs. Meanwhile, those who want to try their hand at business can attend livelihood briefings at training rooms manned by Landbank, OWWA and NRCO. We hope all our OFWs will join us in this endeavor.