By Bernadette D. Nicolas & Samuel P. Medenilla
THE Department of Budget and Management (DBM) authorized the release of an additional P5 billion to augment the emergency repatriation fund for returning displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The budget department released the authority to spend the additional amount on June 24 after the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)—an attached agency of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)—made the request for more funding given the ballooning costs of assisting and repatriating thousands of migrant workers displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The DBM has released the P5-billion allotment and cash allocation to DOLE-OWWA to augment its Emergency Repatriation Fund intended for displaced overseas Filipino worker returnees. This was charged from pooled savings pursuant to Section 4(v) of the Bayanihan Law,” Budget Assistant Secretary and spokesman Rolando U. Toledo told the BusinessMirror in a message.
Sought for a reaction, OWWA administrator Hans J. Cacdac welcomed the news.
“This gives us the needed boost to help the OFWs. Since this is for the emergency repatriation, which means we could utilize this for food, accommodation and transport of the repatriated OFWs,” Cacdac told the BusinessMirror in a phone interview.
DBM’s Toledo was referring to the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA), which gave agencies the authority to spend the amount. Shortly before 5 pm, Cacdac said they received the official authorization from DBM.
With SARO, agencies become authorized to incur obligations on behalf of the government in order to implement their programs, activities and projects.
On the other hand, the NCA specifies the maximum amount of cash that can be withdrawn from a government servicing bank for the period indicated.
According to the budget department, the pooled savings are sourced from 2019 and 2020 national budgets in line with Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
The last day of effectivity of the Bayanihan Law—which gave the President temporary special powers to address the Covid-19 pandemic—was on June 25.
Section 4 (v) of the now expired Bayanihan law allowed the President to direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects, or activities of any agency of the executive department, including government-owned or -controlled corporations in the 2019 and 2020 national budgets whether released or unreleased and allotments for which remain unobligated.
Moreover, the President may also “utilize the savings generated therefrom to augment the allocation for any item directly related to support operations and response measures, which are necessary or beneficial in order to address the Covid-19 emergency.…”
Including the additional P5-billion funding authorized for release to OWWA, the DBM has so far released P374.888 billion in allotment and P360.456 billion in cash allocation to different recipient units as of June 30.
Last week, OWWA’s Cacdac said in a Senate Labor committee hearing that the agency’s remaining P18-billion trust fund could be exhausted by next year if the mass repatriation of OFWs continues.
The labor department earlier said that about a third of the over 300,000 OFWs whose employment was affected by Covid-19 are seeking to be repatriated this year.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque earlier assured the public that the Palace supports efforts to inject support in the OWWA trust fund.
Senators also earlier said Congress would do its part to help beef up OWWA’s resources for dealing with the unprecedentedly high repatriation, as thousands more OFWs are begging to be brought home.
With the additional P5-billion budget, the OWWA is now “in a better position” to assist OFWs, Cacdac said.
OWWA targets to assist 250,000 OFWs until the end of the year, he added.
He thanked the national government for coming to OWWA’s rescue during its ongoing financial woes.
OWWA asked DBM for the additional funds since its ongoing repatriation and assistance efforts for the thousands of OFWs affected by Covid-19 had entailed big drawdowns from its P18.7-billion trust fund.
It said it already spent over P900 million of its trust fund to help 63,000 Covid-affected OFWs.
Labor and Employment Secretary and OWWA Board of Trustees chairman Silvestre H. Bello III called for the allocation of more funds to bring home the displaced OFWs so OWWA’s trust fund will remain sustainable.
Without any alternative funding to be used for its repatriation aid, OWWA said its trust fund is expected to be reduced to P10 billion by the end of this year and below a billion if the fund is continually used for repatriation purposes during the Covid pandemic up to 2021.
“This is the first time they [OFWs] will ask for our assistance; why do we need to tap their [trust] funds,” Bello said.
“Government has to take extra steps in order to assure additional budget to help our OFWs,” he added.
Image credits: PHOTO FROM DFA-OUMWA