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Oft-forgotten OWWA rule allows family of late OFW leader to get death benefits

13 April 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Merly. left, with her best friend and townmate Lorie Pecasis

It may have come nearly three months late, but the cash aid of Php135,000 granted by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to the heirs of the late overseas Filipino leader Merly T. Bunda still came as welcome gesture.

Thanks a lot, mare-release na ng OWWA ang Php100k plus ang burial at pangkabuhayan para kay Merly,” her sister Neneng Bunda, relayed in a text message Monday, Apr 12.

Neneng was referring to the standard OWWA grants for the family of a deceased member, comprising Php100,00 for funeral; P20,000 for burial; and Php15,000 for livelihood benefits.


All these may not have been released despite Merly’s death from cancer on Jan 18, had it not been for the direct intervention of OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac.

The day after Merly passed on at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, Neneng went to the OWWA office in Hong Kong to seek help, and was dismayed on being told that Merly’s membership had lapsed in August last year.

That was just about the time the 54-year-old OFW was told she had stage 4 uterus cancer, and had to go to about five different hospitals to get tested and retested to confirm the diagnosis.


Amid this turmoil, Merly all but forgot to renew her OWWA membership, even after her employer agreed to extend their employment contract for three months when it expired in October of the same year.

The lapse was unusual, as Merly, an active community leader and contributor of The SUN and Bombo Radyo Iloilo, had religiously renewed her OWWA membership in the 30 years that she had worked in Hong Kong.

Other members of the Bunda family in Dingle, Iloilo double-checked the information with the OWWA office in their province, and were equally crestfallen when told the same thing.

Pindutin para sa detalye

They were given Merly’s payment history showing she last paid for her membership on August 12, 2018, meaning it would have covered her only until Aug 11, 2020.

The family, though disappointed, would have opted to let the matter slide, as Merly, who was single, had enough family members who could pitch in for the funeral expenses, including nephews and nieces she had helped send through college.

Bombo Radyo, for which Merly had covered several important events in Hong Kong, including the SARS outbreak in 2003, also helped give her a proper send-off when her remains were finally sent home and laid to rest in March this year.

Merly's 3 brothers at her wake in Dingle. Neneng and another sister were not around

But on learning of the unfortunate event, The SUN sent a message to Administrator Cacdac and asked if there was any way the benefit could still be extended to Merly’s family, considering that she had religiously paid her OWWA membership for three decades.

Call us!

It did not feel right that longtime members whose grave illnesses prevented them from renewing their membership could be deprived of benefits, the OWWA chief was told.

Despite not responding directly to the query, Cacdac acted immediately. Soon, welfare officer Virsie Tamayao contacted Neneng to ask if their family had already been to OWWA regional office in Iloilo and what they were told.

In no time, OWWA Iloilo also contacted Merly’s relatives there and said they were being considered for a two-year extended coverage for OFWs with critical illness.


According to staff at the regional office, this means that members who died from a critical illness could have their membership extended for up to two years so their immediate family members could still be granted benefits.

Tamayao said she did the research for the regional office so they could consider Merly’s next-of-kin for coverage.

Mukha lang hindi aware ang region,” she said. (It just looked like the regional office was not aware of this).

Pindutin para sa detalye

Cacdac himself would not take credit for reversing his staff's earlier decision not to give benefits to Merly’s family.

Responding to a message of thanks, he merely replied, “Okay po, we’ll see how else we can help the family.”

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

With this turn of events, Merly could now rest more peacefully, knowing her three decades of support for OWWA and her own record of helping her fellow OFWs in need have been finally vindicated.








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