'Negligence and corruption': OFW group demands accountability for 'overpriced' OWWA purches

'Negligence and corruption': OFW group demands accountability for 'overpriced' OWWA purches
This April 2, 2020 photo shows overseas Filipino workers who returned to the country and are set to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — A progressive group representing overseas Filipino workers demanded Thursday accountability from the Duterte government and prosecution of the government officials responsible for what it said was "blatant corruption" inside the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

This comes after the Commission on Audit's 2020 report flagged the OWWA’s purchases of overpriced hygiene kits, sanitary napkins, thermal scanners, bottled waters and snacks totaling P1,269,920.

In a statement Migrante International slammed the OWWA, saying the purchase came "at a time when the country is reeling from a worsening health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic."

“It is deplorable that government agencies such as OWWA are exploiting the crisis to embezzle funds that is allocated towards providing immediate assistance to our OFWs whose livelihood, health and survival are threatened by the pandemic,” Migrante chair Concepcion said.

"Every stolen peso entrusted to our government agencies to serve the needs of the Filipino people calls for accountability."

Migrante International pointed out that thousands of OFWs displaced by the pandemic were stranded overseas without clean water, adequate food and shelter, and no financial assistance from the government.

This, while returning OFWs found themselves stranded in OWWA-run quarantine shelters including pregnant women and nursing mothers who were deprived of medical assistance.

'Resources could have saved lives'

To recall, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac also announced this week the suspension of cash assistance for OFWs pending the passage of the proposed Bayanihan 3 law which would give it more funding.

According to Migrante, this came when more than half a million OFWs had already returned home to economic and health insecurity along with the millions of OFWs overseas still jobless. 

“OFWs are enraged and have had enough of the criminal negligence, the corruption and ravenous greed that marks the Duterte regime. We hold him the most accountable. On his watch, Dutere has allowed badly needed resources that could have saved lives, and supported the well-being of our distressed economic heroes to be stolen,” Concepcion said.

While OWWA Admin Cacdac says the amount in question is a small percentage relative to its total budget, Migrante in its statement said that OFWs are "no stranger to the records of grave corruption among government agencies mandated to provide them with welfare services and protection."

“We cannot forget the billions of OWWA funds that had been wrongly invested based on past administrations’ inutility. The OWWA fund has served as a moneybox for unscrupulous government officials since time immemorial. Each regime had exploited the OFWs’ fund for its own selfish agenda such as the transfer of OWWA Medicare to Philhealth during Gloria Arroyo’s term to pursue her presidential campaign. From OWWA to Philhealth, indeed government continues to be big business for greedy wolves amassing wealth and power.” Concepcion remarked.

"It is mandatory for every Filipino deployed to work abroad to pay a $25 OWWA membership filling the piggy bank of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration since its establishment as part of the Labor Export Program of the national government. It is the contributions of our Filipino migrant workers who have been mainly funding for the services and programs that attend to their welfare and protection when it should be the responsibility of the national government."

READ: OWWA probes purchase of P1.2 million hygiene kits

This comes as the Commission on Audit also flagged understanding and other financial deficiencies from a litany of government departments. 

In response, President Rodrigo Duterte instructed government offices not to ignore audit findings by the COA and falsely claimed the commission had defamed the government by publicizing its reports. 

"That's what I hate about flagging. It creates a conundrum and you know that it's political season. Everyone has tirades, everyone has criticisms. These newspapers act as if they are the epitome of propriety and decency," Duterte said. 

“You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person you are flagging," he added.

Migrante also hit Duterte for his response, saying he chose to strike back "instead of showing earnest commitment to address these blatant cases of corruption."

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