MEMBERSHIP contribution to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) dropped by 60 percent as deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) declined in 2020 because of the economic effect and travel restrictions imposed by labor importing countries as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
“There is a 60 percent drop in membership contribution. The [OWWA] fund now stands at P18.4 billion,” said OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac over the weekend in a virtual press briefing even as he assured members that the state-run overseas workers welfare fund is “not in the red” and remains stable primarily because of the support from the national government. “As of now, we manage to balance our fund because of the support of the national government. We were given P5,2 billion last year and for 2021 we were given [by Congress] P6,2 billion,” Cacdac said.
Cacdac said that all OWWA continues to provide OFW members the benefits due them, which include livelihood programs and educational assistance, among others, because the trust fund is solely dedicated for the workers welfare.
“So I don’t see any depletion of OWWA fund because we were able to balance [our fund]. We don’t spend the fund for the food, transport and accommodation [of returning OFWs]. ” he further said.
Prior to the pandemic, the OWWA fund stood at more than P20 billion. It was reduced to P18 billion several months later as the agency spent for the initial repatriation, and the intended benefits and livelihood due returning Covid-affected Filipino migrant workers, including non-OWWA members.
In 2020, about 500,000 OFWs were displaced from work with close to 380,000 repatriated to the country and another 100,000 more to arrive in 2021.
Initial records from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that the number of OFWs deployed in 2020 was 1,394,788, which is considerably lower compared to the two million in 2019.
Of the 1,394,788 deployed in 2020, 1,101,040 were land-based and 293,748 were sea-based.
Under the OWWA Balik Pilipinas, Balik Hanapbuhay program, returning OFWs, including those who have already returned are entitled to a maximum of P20,000 cash assistance if they are active OWWA members, and a maximum of P10,000 for non-members.
The welfare fund came from the contributions of departing OFWs who are required to pay a $25 membership contribution. In return, members are entitled to various benefits and services.
As per record by the OWWA, there are almost 11 million Filipino migrant workers in more than 200 destinations around the world. Of the number, 5.5 million were temporary contract workers and another 5.5 million were permanent residents, but only 2.5 million were active OWWA members.
During a Senate hearing in 2020, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon had proposed to use P18.4 billion trust fund for the emergency needs of displaced and repatriated Filipino migrant workers.
But it was strongly opposed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd who maintained that said fund should not be used for any other purpose except for the OWWA members’ needs, such as livelihood or if they plan to put up businesses and for their children’s education.
Cacdac, in the same hearing, said that the agency’s then P18.79-billion fund is expected to be reduced to P10 billion by the end of 2020, and plunge below P1 billion by the end of 2021 should the OWWA-managed welfare fund be used for the repatriation, hotel accommodation, food and transport of OFWs.
For this year, Cacdac said that the P6,2 billion allotted by Congress for the repatriation and other related expenses of returning OFWS would be depleted by April or May.
He said that OWWA has asked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for a P9.8 billion supplementary budget to sustain the needs of returning OFWs.
At present, Cacdac added, there were some 10,000 to 12,000 OFWs being quarantined in 140 hotel facilities all over Metro Manila, noting that for hotel rooms alone, the OWWA is spending P3,000 per person for five-star hotels and a bit lower for lower class accommodations or an estimated expenses of P30 million a day.