Migrante International lauds Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus for taking up the issue of alleged abuse and misuse of OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) funds in the hearings for the proposed budget for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The OWWA is an attached agency under the DOLE. OWWA funds, believed to have reached Php18 billion, come directly from mandatory USD $25 contributions from OFWs. Over the years, the OWWA funds have been met with controversy due to allegations of corruption and government abuse and misuse. Despite these, the OWWA funds have not been subjected to a full audit and no public accounting of how the funds were used, or is being used, has been available to OFWs.
Migrante International has 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. If so, where did 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. No actual evacuation took place.
In 2004, plunder raps were also slapped on Arroyo for the illegal fund transfer of OWWA funds that were allegedly diverted to her electoral campaign coffers.
These cases remain unresolved and shelved, and calls for a full audit have been ignored by previous administrations.
Meanwhile, the OWWA continues to deprive OFWs and their families of services and benefits. The OWWA has streamlined benefits and services over the years. Some of the major programs and services were phased out, among them, the General Financial Assistance program, Medicare, Legal Assistance Program and Repatriation program. It also limited scholarship for dependents and other benefits.
“Ang mga benepisyong ito ay inilaban at pinagtagumpayan ng mga migranteng manggagawa. Dahil sa OOP, isang iglap lang ay binawi ng OWWA. OFWs are just claiming what are rightfully theirs,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
Martinez 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.
“Walang maayos na serbisyo at benepisyo. Saan napunta ang P18-bilyong pondo ng OWWA? Unless a full audit takes place OFWs have reason to believe that OWWA funds are not trickling down to much-needed services and benefits for OFWs,” he said. ###