DBM: Enough funds for OFW repatriation from Kuwait

MANILA, Philippines – The government has enough funds for the repatriation of Filipino workers from Kuwait, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said on Wednesday, February 14.

Diokno made the statement as planeloads of Filipino workers were due to arrive in Manila, opting to be repatriated from Kuwait after the Philippine government ordered a total ban on the deployment of workers to the Arab nation because of cases of abuses against domestic FIlipino workers there.

Diokno said repatriation funds can be tapped from the budgets of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and also the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), should it decide to chip in.

The DOLE can tap also into other fund sources if necessary, Diokno added.

"There's a lot of flexibility there if needed. We have a contingent fund anyway," Diokno said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

The contingency fund for this year stands at P13 billion. (READ: What's the share of gov't offices in the 2018 P3.8-T national budget?)

On Tuesday, February 13, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque assured returning workers that those who opted for repatriation will get P5,000 in financial assistance on top of the P20,000 livelihood aid from OWWA.

Labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said an additional 2,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait have applied for repatriation.

As of February 8, a total of 1,124 workers were issued with travel documents stamped with exit visas. Some 800 OFWs are scheduled to be home within the week, DOLE said.

Bello added that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the workers to be repatriated within 72 hours.

Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines and budget airline Cebu Pacific offered to fly home the workers.  (READ: Duterte tells helpful Lucio Tan he'll forgive and forget)

There are an estimated 252,000 Filipino workers in the Gulf country, mostly working as domestic helpers.

The labor department issued a total ban on OFW deployment to Kuwait on Monday, February 12, days after DOLE identified a Filipina domestic worker’s body stored in a freezer for about a year. 

DOLE said the ban should force the Kuwaiti government to sign an agreement that would give additional protection to Filipino workers.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Immigration clarified that the deployment ban does not cover workers with prior contracts and are only home for a vacation, as well as short-term visitors with non-working visas headed to Kuwait.

The deployment ban had angered the Kuwaiti government which condemned the ban  and said the Philippine government's move "would not serve the relationship between Kuwait and the Philippines." – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.