AKAP originally had a P1.5-billion budget for 150,000 workers when it was launched late March as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. With the new infusions, DOLE's Rolly Francia said the program will be able to assist 250,000 OFWs.
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Fresh funds for migrant worker assistance secured but still fall short
Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - May 28, 2020 - 5:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — Fresh funds were funneled to the labor department’s aid program for migrant workers displaced by the health crisis, allowing the assistance of additional 100,000 beneficiaries, but still falling short of what is required.

In a Viber message on Thursday, Rolly Francia, director of information and publication service at the labor agency, said P1 billion in new funding was allocated to the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program which had since reopened for applications.

Last May 12, Francia said AKAP, which grants a one-time cash subsidy of P10,000 to each OFW, was suspended “pending budget augmentation.” At the time, a total of 109,182 migrant workers had been assisted by P1.12 billion in outlay.

AKAP originally had a P1.5-billion budget for 150,000 workers when it was launched late March as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. With the new infusions, Francia said the program will be able to assist 250,000 OFWs.

However, funds will still be short to subsidize all OFWs seeking help now reaching “more than 450,000." “AKAP is a continuing program to help our OFWs during this crisis,” Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano said in a statement.

Funding constraints loom

The resumption of AKAP is a welcome development as the government faces a surge in migrant workers losing jobs and coming home, a direct result of the pandemic’s effects to the global economy and lockdowns that shuttered businesses and hurt industries. But funds appear to be still lacking and unable to cope with rising number of people in need of assistance.

Last May 22, Arellano told a Senate hearing 302,216 OFWs were “displaced, distressed, stranded and infected” by COVID-19, but this is expected to balloon to 500,000 by year-end. Jeremaiah Opiniano, executive director for Institute for Migration and Development Issues, a think tank, said a cash crunch looms in the government trying to assist migrant workers who will lose jobs.

"If the displaced workers alone reach 300,000-400,000 as we projected, OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) may get bankrupted. Hence, we said that for OFWs to remain at work, we can negotiate for salary cuts and less work hours for the time being," Opiniano said in an online exchange.

Of the current displacements, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said about 42,000 OFWs were so repatriated, while another 45,000 are expected to return in the next two months.

Slow transport of quarantined OFWs

Apart from funding constraints, DOLE is also struggling to bring home around 24,000 OFWs stuck in state-designated quarantine facilities, following a mandatory isolation of workers from abroad.

Delayed issuance of clearances despite testing results had hampered their release and President Duterte, over the weekend, ordered that all OFWs in isolation hubs be brought home in one week beginning last Monday.

In response, DOLE promised to complete the task in three days ending Wednesday, by transporting 8,000 OFWs each day, but as of Wednesday only 7,500 had been safely sent home.

Labor officials, including people from OWWA, did not respond to repeated request for update on Thursday.

Last May 22, Arellano told a Senate hearing the agency have recorded 302,216 OFWs who were “displaced, distressed, stranded and infected” by COVID-19 and the number is expected to balloon to 500,000 by year-end. 

Of the current displacements, about 42,000 OFWs were so repatriated, while another 45,000 are expected to return in the next two months.

Apart from AKAP, DOLE is also currently running the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program that grants cash aid to informal workers. Last month, it suspended its COVID-19 Adjustment Measures (CAMP) assistance for formal employees due to lack of funds.

CAMP was then superseded by the finance department’s Small Business Wage Subsidy program that will run until June 15.

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