Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III clarified that only 16,679 displaced OFWs are set to return home from various countries until the end of the month.
Geremy Pintolo/File
Most displaced OFWs would rather not return home – DOLE
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - June 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Over 300,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been affected by the coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic, but the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday said most of them would rather stay abroad than return home.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III clarified that only 16,679 displaced OFWs are set to return home from various countries until the end of the month.

“We reported two weeks ago that we are expecting 42,000 OFWs to be repatriated from May to June, but only 16,679 have the required exit visas and plane tickets for them to come home,” Bello said at a televised press briefing.

Based on reports from various Philippine Overseas Labor Offices, Bello said more than 343,551 OFWs have been affected by the pandemic.

Of this figure, 341,961 lost their jobs while 2,390 contracted COVID-19.

The DOLE recorded 72 COVID-related deaths among OFWs.

“The (more than) 341,000 displaced OFWs were either terminated from work or not getting any pay because they cannot go to work because of the lockdown. These workers, though still employed, are under a no-work-no-pay category so they are still affected,” Bello said.

He added that of the total number of displaced OFWs, about 95,000 have expressed their desire to be repatriated. Only over 16,000, however, can go home immediately.

“So what happened to the rest of the displaced OFWs? You will be surprised that almost 200,000 of them don’t want to come home. They, especially those in America and Europe, would rather stay,” the labor chief said.

So far, the DOLE has spent P1.5 billion for the distribution of $200 cash assistance to a total of 145,000 displaced OFWs, according to Bello.

He disclosed that the DOLE still has P1.1-billion budget remaining for the program and that the department got additional funding for the implementation of the Abot-Kamay Tulong Program (AKAP), which was initially intended to assist 150,000 displaced OFWs.

“We have received a total of 450,000 applications for AKAP, thus we sought for additional funding. Though as of now, the approval rate is 30 to 40 percent of total applications,” Bello said.

He added that he also sought the assistance of the Department of Transportation to be able to bring home to their provinces those who will be repatriated in the coming days.

The labor chief also asked the help of the Department of Tourism and other concerned agencies for the accommodation as well as COVID test of homeward bound OFWs.

Bello said his office is also looking at the concerns of Filipinos stranded in South Korea since Korean Airlines has yet to get clearance to fly to Manila, while the lockdown in United Arab Emirates also prevented Filipinos from going back to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, no Filipino worker in Hong Kong has expressed intention to return to the Philippines despite the unrest over a controversial law that seeks to ban activities that threaten China’s national security, according to the DOLE.

“Not a single OFW is asking us to bring them home. They are safe there,” Bello said at a press briefing yesterday. Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago

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