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Immediate signing of OWWA Act urged amid looming mass retrenchment of OFWs in the Middle East

Photo by GMA News

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial bet Win Gatchalian called on President Aquino to immediately sign the proposed Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Act amid the expected mass retrenchment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East.

“There is no excuse for delay. The immediate signing of the proposed law will ensure that the OWWA Fund will be used solely for the welfare of OFWs and their families with the looming mass retrenchment of workers in the Middle East,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on foreign affairs.

Gatchalian pointed out that reintegration is exactly the kind of service that jobless OFWs will need from the government in this time of crisis.

“The earlier the OWWA Act will be signed, the sooner it will be implemented to 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. 2995 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.”

Under the measure, OWWA shall be tasked to provide social and welfare programs including reintegration and entrepreneurial development services. It shall also be tasked to respond promptly to “global emergencies or crisis situations affecting OFWs and their families.”

According to OWWA, in-country reintegration includes job referrals, business counseling, community organizing and financial literacy seminar. OWWA services may also be extended to non-members, under the OWWA Act.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has been quoted by reports as saying her agency has sufficient funds for repatriation and other kinds of aid to OFWs who will be losing their jobs and will have no recourse but to return to the country.

Economist Calixto Chikiamco warned that oil prices and political turmoil have affected the economies of countries hosting OFWs. “One of the growth drivers is remittances, but there are political uncertainties in the Middle East and, of course, oil prices have gone down. So the economies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, are severely challenged. So they might be sending OFWs home,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, for one, is suffering cuts in its budget because of the collapse in crude prices, as 75 percent of its revenue comes from oil.

The OWWA Act will institute the much-needed reforms to ensure transparency in the usage and management of the OWWA Funds, strengthen the safeguards in the use of the members’ contribution, and the development of programs that will ultimately redound to the benefit of our OFWs and their families.