Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial candidate Win Gatchalian urged President Benigno Aquino III to sign the proposed Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Act as this will shield overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the looming mass retrenchment in the Middle East.
Gatchalian expressed alarm over the admission by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that some 1.23 million semi-skilled or low-skilled OFWs could lose their jobs should the price of oil in the world market continues to fall.
“To truly aid our OFWs in emergency situations, the OWWA must step up to its responsibility of helping them not only in terms of reintegration and repatriation but also through its education and training benefits. The signing of the OWWA Act will ensure that the agency is in good financial position to do its duties and improve its services to OFWs,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Valenzuela City lawmaker pointed out that OWWA can be more equipped to help these affected OFWs to develop or upgrade their skills once the President signs into law the OWWA Act, which in turn will ensure that enough funding is funneled to its services and programs by mandating that the OWWA Fund be exclusively used for the welfare of OFWs and their families.
Aside from health and social benefits, OWWA also offers education and training benefits to OFWs who may avail of its scholarship programs: Skills-for-Employment Scholarship Program; Education for Development Scholarship Program and Seafarers’ Upgrading Program.
“We should look at boosting the competencies of our OFWs. Both the government and the OFWs will benefit from this: we help them upgrade from unskilled or semi-skilled to becoming skilled or professional, while the OFWs contribute higher and steadier remittances,” said Gatchalian, who is running for senator under the Partido Puso at Galing (PGP) of presidential frontrunner Grace Poe and leading vice presidential Chiz Escudero.
OWWA’s Skills-for-Employment Scholarship Program is for technical or vocational training while the Education for Development Scholarship Program is for baccalaureate programs. The Seafarers’ Upgrading Program sharpens the skills of sea-based members to ensure the Filipino seafarers’ competitive advantage in meeting competency standards by international agencies including the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“The earlier the OWWA Act is signed, the sooner it will benefit OFWs who will be laid off because of falling oil prices,” explained Gatchalian, who recently rendered assistance to the family of Mary Jane Veloso that made it possible for them to visit the jailed OFW in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The bicameral report on the measure, authored by Gatchalian through his House Bill No. 2053 and the substitute measure HB No. 4990, was already signed by both Houses and is set to be transmitted to the President for his signature.
The harmonized version of House Bill No. 4990 and Senate Bill No. 2955 seeks to limit the use of the OWWA Fund only for the welfare of member OFWs and their families. It cannot be used “to respond, aid, supplement, or in any manner augment any required expenditure by other government agencies.” (R. Burgos)