Migrante renews call for scrapping of OWWA Omnibus Policies

OOPMigrante Sectoral Partylist renewed calls for the scrapping of the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) Omnibus Policies (OOP) that effectively made the $25 OWWA contributions mandatory per contract, revoked lifetime memberships of Filipino migrants and families and eroded OWWA’s major welfare programs.

The group reiterated its call in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling, dated January 21, 2015, directing the Pasay City Regional Trial Court to promptly resolve a petition that sought to declare the OOP as unconstitutional.

The OOP or OWWA Resolution No.038 was implemented on September 19, 2003. The OOP stipulated the renewal of OWWA membership per contract. Before the OOP, a one-time contribution of the $25 membership fee meant a lifetime membership for OFWs. When the OOP was implemented, failure to pay and renew the $25 mandatory contribution per contract (usually every two years) meant that an OFW is not entitled to programs and welfare services by the OWWA.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Sectoral Partylist chairperson, because of the renewal clause in the OOP, OWWA’s services have since discriminated against irregular or undocumented OFWs, which constitute majority of OFWs in distress.

Bragas-Regalado also said that the OOP streamlined benefits and services provided by OWWA to its members. “With the implementation of the OOP, some of the major programs and services were phased out, among them, the General Financial Assistance program, Medicare, Legal Assistance Program and Repatriation program.”

The OOP has since been declared anti-migrant and a money-making scheme. “Support mechanisms should be put in place to accommodate welfare needs of OFWs and their families, regardless of status. This is the OWWA’s constitutional mandate. Even OFWs who were terminated, have become undocumented or those who have decided to come home for good should be entitled to benefits. According to law, the OWWA should give total coverage to all Filipino migrant workers. We call on the Pasay RTC to uphold the law and protect the rights and welfare of OFWs and families.”

Full audit of OWWA funds

Bragas-Regalado added that their group has also long been calling for a “full audit” and an “immediate and independent investigation” of OWWA funds in light of many unresolved issues of abuse, misuse and corruption.

In 2011, a report by the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that OWWA’s overseas officers failed to remit more than P21 million in collections to OWWA’s Land Bank-Manila dollar account during the last ten years. “The Land Bank also charges a 1% management fee per annual deposits made by the OWWA. This contradicts reason – money deposited to the bank should be earning interest and not the other way around. Where does the money go?”

In 2006, then AFP Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu botched a rescue mission funded by OWWA during the Lebanon crisis. The OWWA released P150 million for the repatriation of OFWs but out of the 6,000 OFWs there, only 1,000 were repatriated by Cimatu. The incident prompted several Senate hearings and it was then discovered that P6.8 billion of OWWA funds were transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank of the Philippines (P3.4 billion each) without any consultations with the OFW sector.

Former solicitor general Atty. Frank Chavez also filed a case at the DOJ against former president Gloria Arroyo for alleged misuse, re-channel and charge to OWWA funds various projects that had nothing to do with OFWs, among them the supposed evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2003. “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”

“These cases remain unresolved and unless a full audit takes place OFWs have reason to believe that OWWA funds are not trickling down to much-needed service to OFWs,” Bragas-Regalado said. ###

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