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OWWA says P300m set aside for OFWs stranded by travel ban

05 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Hundreds of stranded OFWs flock to OWWA's office in Pasay City for the promised cash assistance
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration says it has allocated Php300 million in financial aid to Filipino migrant workers who have been barred from flying back to their work in Hong Kong, Macau and China because of travel restrictions that took effect Feb. 2

OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac told The SUN that this much was set aside “kasi we are expecting 20,000 claimants in a span of two weeks.” So far, he said about 500 affected OFWs have each received the Php10,000 payout.

That appears to indicate that the travel ban, imposed in the wake of the death of a novel coronavirus patient in Manila, is expected to remain in place for that long at least, or even longer.

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Cacdac said that while the claims being processed are those from OFWs who have confirmed bookings to the affected areas until Feb. 9, OWWA is ready to pay stranded workers for as long as the ban is in place.

Told that the queues at the OWWA office in Pasay City extended to beyond 700 for today (Feb 5) alone, Cacdac said: “Fund distribution is a continuing process po. If not today, tomorrow. Basta we will give the Php10k po sa lahat ng entitled dito.”
 
Admin Cacdac says all entitled OFWs will get the Php10k payout
That means, the hundreds of OFWs who have been stranded in Hong Kong, Macau and China because of cancelled flights home are not entitled to the payout, even if they incur expenses for visa extension, accommodation and food until they could find a way out.

Cacdac’s clarification was sought in the wake of complaints from several migrant organizations and the workers themselves, that only a few OFWs had received the Php10k for various reasons.

One OFW who failed to catch her flight on the first day of the ban on Feb. 2 was reportedly told when she called OWWA’s hotline that the cash handout was “fake news.”

After her employer helped press her claim, she was told to go to OWWA’s main office in Pasay city where she was given a tag saying she was number 749 in the queue, but that the cut-off for the day was 1,000 claimants.

By noon, the money had run out, and was quickly replenished. But at about 6pm, after about 600 had received the money, OWWA office staff again told the hundreds still in the queue that “naubusan ng pera.” Eventually everyone in the queue did get their money.

OWWA Deputy Admin Mocha Uson talks to claimants on second day of cash distribution
Many OFWs who queued up for the first day of cash distribution on Feb 4 also went away empty-handed.

“ATM- naubusan na daw cash sa OWWA main. Sabi mag-intay lang daw sila at yung iba ay binibigyan ng option na sa regional na pumunta,” said an OFW called Jonathan in a chat message to Filipino community leader Satur Tiamzon.

Later, Jonathan texted again to say that he called OWWA’s Region 5 office and was reportedly told that he couldn’t get any financial help unless he undertook not to return to his workplace, an apparent reference to the livelihood assistance given to returning OFWs.
The same complaint was aired by several other OFWs who told Filcom leader Eman Villanueva that they had been told after inquiring with OWWA regional offices on Feb. 3 that there was no directive yet from the main office on the cash payout.

Other OFWs who sent out the same message mentioned in particular the OWWA offices in Region 1, La Union, and Region 5 in Bicol.

However, Cacdac assured that everyone entitled would get the money, even those who claim it from the regional offices.

“Basta they can produce an OEC (overseas employment certificate) and plane ticket to Hong Kong po, we will provide the cash assistance,” he said.  OWWA's advisory lists also the passport as a requirement.

On top of the Php10k, applicants who file their claim at the OWWA main office are also given Php300 transportation money. Some OFWs claimed to have been given air tickets to their hometowns, but this has not been confirmed.

Still, this is little comfort for the thousands who are stranded in various airports in the country, whose utmost concern is that their employers won’t sack them for not returning to Hong Kong as expected.

Aside from this, they also worry about not getting paid their salary for the time they had to sit it out in the Philippines while waiting for the ban to be lifted.

The new travel restrictions also barred foreign nationals who had been to any part of China within 14 days before arriving in the Philippines, but they could leave, even for the affected areas. Arriving Filipinos are allowed in, but have to undergo self-quarantine for 14 days.
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