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Labatt Dizon contradicts superiors in ‘Akap’ memo

23 April 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Stranded OFWs lining  up for cash aid from OWWA in February

Only 150,000 overseas Filipino workers who lose their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis will benefit from the US$200 financial assistance under the DOLE-Akap for OFWs    program, Labor Attaché Melchor Dizon said in a statement issued today, Apr 23.

Dizon’s announcement posted on the Facebook page of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office immediately came under fire from overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong who complained that the government’s aid program for them does not go far enough.

One also pointed out that Dizon’s announcement contradicted a statement made by the Department of Labor and Employment only hours earlier that the Dole-Akap program will continue despite the maximum target number of recipients being reached.

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Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano who supervises the cash aid program was reported in a national daily as denying a press statement issued by Dole earlier that only 150,000 OFWs will be assisted because of “limited budget.”

“The program will continue,” Arellano was quoted as saying.

Afterwards, even Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in an interview that the application process will go ahead, even if Dole and the various posts abroad have already received around 200,000 applications.

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Bello told Business Mirror that only 12 percent of those who applied have qualified for the US$200 cash aid, while the rest are still being screened.

“So far we have only paid 18,000 [applicants]. That is worth P180 million, or only over 10 percent out of total budget,” Bello reportedly said.

He added that Dole may request for additional funding for Akap once the allocated budget has been exhausted if there are still many qualified applicants.
Dizon (with mic) insists Polo will stop accepting applications for Akap once the allotted funds have been used up

But in his advisory, Dizon quoted a Dole memorandum issued on Wednesday that reportedly said that only Php1.5 billion had been allocated for the Akap program.

“With the said limited budget, only 150,000 out of the million Filipinos overseas can be accommodated under the program,” said Dizon.

“Hence, once the said allocation has been reached, Polos are constrained to stop receiving DOLE-Akap applications and may resume only upon release of any additional funds.”

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The Akap program, which awards US$200 or roughly Php10k dole-out to each OFW who loses his or her job, or gets sick because of Covid-19, was unveiled by Labor  Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Mar 27.

Dizon’s advisory was met by a barrage of plaintive comments from OFWs as soon as it was posted on the Polo Facebook page. They complained of not getting any help at all from the government as even their families in the Philippines are excluded from the cash and food aid distributed by local governments.

Neither do they get help from the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, under which 18 million low-income households will receive Php5,000 to Php8,000 a month for two months under the social amelioration program to cushion the impact of the pandemic.

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“Unfair nga, yon lang mga nagkaroon ng cases ng Covid-19 at nawalan ng work. Huwag na lang sabihin all OFWs. Sayang lang ibinabayad sa OWWA. Ako 12 years contributions walang pakinabang,” commented a certain Gordula Jane

“Ay buwiset...sa dami ng OFW all over the world yan lang ang bibigyan...post pa kayo ng post, hindi pala lahat bibigyan. Buti pa hindi na sila nagpost kasi madami sasama ang loob lang,” said Acierto Matda Racquel.

Migrant leader Eman Villanueva had said earlier the so-called financial assistance is just lip service intended to show the government is doing something to help the workers.

“Sa totoo lang, sa sobrang dami ng exemptions, mas marami ang hindi makakakuha kaysa sa makakakuha. Ang mangyayari diyan, para ring sa social amelioration sa Pilipinas. Dahil sa dami ng exemption, maya-maya niyan nag-aaway na ang mga tao,” said Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong-Macau.
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