This April 2, 2020, photo shows overseas Filipino workers who were repatriated amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The STAR/Edd Gumban

Cash aid to OFWs stays as DOLE retracts 'wrong announcement' after two hours

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - April 22, 2020 - 7:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — Migrant workers displaced by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) outbreak can still apply for aid before the labor department, which took back a “wrong announcement” of aid suspension nearly two and a half hours after being made.

In a Viber message to Philstar.com, Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano, who supervises AKAP cash aid program for overseas Filipino workers, said there was no order to stop the program, whether for workers already home or those still in their host countries. “The program will continue,” he said in Filipino.

Alice Visperas, chief of the department’s international labor affairs, also said in a phone interview “there are still remaining funds” from AKAP’s allocation of P1.5 billion.

Both officials belied an official statement from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier Tuesday afternoon that said the program was able to assist “only 150,000 OFWs” due to “limited budget.” 

The statement quoted no official, and was sent by DOLE’s public affairs office to the reporters’ Viber group at 2:49 p.m. As hours went by with reporters reaching out to labor officials for more details about the supposed program cancellation, it became clear no such decision was reached.

“I think the said PR (press release) has no clearance from the Secretary,” Arellano said.

By 5:04 p.m., the public affairs office took back what it said was a “wrong announcement” “inadvertently released.” But this was not before the statement was posted on DOLE’s website, as well as the agency’s Facebook pages for OFWs in Singapore and Malaysia. The posts had since been taken down as well.

Under AKAP, displaced OFWs can file for a one-time assistance of P10,000 each, but the subsidy is limited to workers from 29 “priority countries” including Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Italy and New Zealand. 

It was not immediately clear how many workers have so far been assisted, but as of Monday, the foreign affairs department has so far repatriated 16,682 OFWs. Broken down, 13,213 of OFWs sent home were seafarers while the balance of 3,469 were land workers.

Last week, DOLE was also placed in a curious situation when it announced the suspension of its COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) for formal workers supposedly because of fund shortages.

When reached by Philstar.com however, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado had said an additional P2.5 billion was scheduled to be released for CAMP, on top of the initial P1.6 billion already being spent for the program. 

CAMP had since been cancelled with only 236,412 individuals getting their P5,000 lump-sum subsidy as of April 16. The department said the total number of assisted people can reach 321,975 by month’s end when all the P1.6 billion would have been disbursed.

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