WITH no additional funding coming from the national government until now, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) may soon tap its trust fund to continue providing quarantine accommodations for overseas Filipino workers (OFW).
OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said this will affect the implementation of their planned programs for the thousands of repatriated OFWs this year.
“We will have to use our P2.6-billion fund budget for 2021, to be used mostly for livelihood, scholarships and other social benefits programs. The use of the OWWA trust fund for hotels etc., will be an added expense [under the trust fund],” Cacdac told the BusinessMirror in an SMS.
OWWA asked for over P9 billion last month from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to augment its P6-billion budget for accommodations this year. It is now nearly depleted after the government implemented a five-day rule before any inbound passenger is tested for Covid-19, resulting in extended hotel stays for OFWs, from just two days to over a week. The policy was based on the premise that Covid does not immediately manifest in an infected person, so if a returning OFW is tested right after flight, he may test negative, and then be released to his final destination, infecting others.
Currently, Cacdac said they only have P2 billion left for OFW accommodations.
Instead of granting OWWA‘s budget request, DBM suggested that OWWA should “maximize” its trust fund to provide quarantine accommodation to OFWs.
Budget Assistant Secretary and spokesman Rolando Toledo told the BusinessMirror the OWWA still has an over P18-billion balance left in its fund as of end-January this year.
“The DBM recommends that the agency maximizes its available allotment for FY 2021, as well as assess and consider the utilization of its OWWA Fund. As of January 31, 2021, the Owwa fund has a balance of P18.362 billion and can be used by the agency to finance its core programs and services,” Toledo said in a message.
Cacdac said he is open to DBM’s recommendation, although he said he would have preferred that the Owwa trust fund, which is sourced from $25 membership fees, be used to give “more social benefits—or money straight into the hands of OFWs—in contrast to giving money to hotels, food caterers, and airlines or bus companies.”
Meanwhile, he hopes the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) will adjust its quarantine protocols, as this may reduce the accommodation expenses of OWWA.
Cacdac did not elaborate on the said “measures,” but he noted it is “not necessarily to shorten the 5-day rule.”
Last Sunday, OWWA reported over 500,000 OFWs were already repatriated in the country.
Another 49,698 are scheduled to be repatriated in the coming weeks.