DFA warns OFW repatriation funds may run out by August

A ranking Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official said their P1-billion fund being used to repatriate stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) would likely be depleted by August this year.

DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola told the House committee on public accounts on Friday, June 26, that the budget is running out since they are allowed to bring home only 350 passengers in every chartered flight, which costs the government a whopping P13 million to P14 million per trip. 

“The bigger problem your honor, we have a very high utilization rate. And if we continue repatriating aggressively, since we already have only have 30 to 31% of the remaining P1 billion funds for the assistance to nationals, by the end of the August or mid-August, we will not have funds for repatriation anymore,” Arriola said. 

She was responding to Bulacan 1st District Representative Jose Sy-Alvarado, who asked what the DFA has done so far to assist OFWs stuck abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

To date, the DFA has brought home more than 56,000 OFWs, 31,031 of whom are seafarers and another 25,259 are land-based migrant workers. 

Arriola, however, admitted there are still 88,000 distressed OFWs stuck in Saudi Arabia. She said the DFA is having trouble bringing them all home given the sheer size of the country, whose province of Riyadh alone is bigger than the Philippines. 

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh and Jeddah are also closed, as several staff members were infected with COVID-19.

Asked further by Sy-Alvarado what assistance the DFA needs from the national government to remedy the problem, Arriola appealed for an increase in the passenger limit for chartered flights. 

“It’s going to be very helpful for us if the caps, if you increase the number of OFWs… because there are limitations per day. If we are given at least 2,000 per day, at least 7 days a week, then we can bring in more,” Arriola said.

“The DFA stands ready to bring home as many OFWs as possible, but we have to follow also the regulations. Because we are bound by the flight caps, the number of OFWs that can enter,” she added. 

The DFA is planning to repatriate another 37,6660 OFWs in the next 3 to 4 weeks. 

The DFA is not alone in dealing with the problem of depleting funds. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Hans Cacdac told senators on Wednesday, June 24, that the agency’s P18.8 billion fund – which comes from OFW contributions – may go down to P10 billion by the end of 2020 due to the current costs of response.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III previously said there are a total of 345,000 OFWs affected by the pandemic, but 191,000 of them refused to come home.

With 56,000 OFWs already back in the Philippines, the government has only brought home about a quarter of expected repatriates. – Rappler.com