In light of the claim of an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) official that the agency’s funds for repatriation and quarantine are running out, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chapter of OFW organization Migrante International asks: where did OFW funds go?
We question OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac’s statement in a Thursday interview with DZMM Teleradyo that the agency is asking Congress for P10 billion to defray the cost of returning OFWs’ quarantine in hotels, as the agency’s funds for the purpose will run out by May-June of this year.
Spending OWWA funds on the repatriation, quarantine and even testing of OFWs is a most legitimate way of using the said funds. Government funding for OFW services should in fact be increased. Still, we OFWs cannot believe that OFWs’ funds are already running out.For many years, OFWs have been asking OWWA for various kinds of assistance — to no avail. Before the pandemic, there were many, more than 25,000 distressed and undocumented OFWs in KSA who were asking for assistance from the agency but were refused help.
One example is Mrs. Estela G. Caagbay, who in 2018 accidentally slipped while cleaning the toilet of her employer’s house in KSA. She hit her head, had a blackout, and eventually went on comatose. In August 2018, Mrs. Caagbay asked for help from OWWA, from Mr. Cacdac himself, but did not receive any assistance.
Mrs. Caagbay has already been repatriated and is now staying in Lucena City, after her house in Tayabas, Quezon was burned down. She has continued to ask OWWA for medical or financial assistance, but has to this day not been given any.
How can we believe Mr. Cacdac’s claim that OWWA is running out of funds when we OFWs know how unreasonably stingy the agency has been when it comes to helping OFWs in need before the pandemic? Now, one year into the pandemic, more than 35,000 OFWs in KSA continue to ask for immediate assistance and repatriation.
It is important to note that in the General Appropriations Act for 2021, OWWA was allotted P7.6 billion. This the second highest allotment within the Department of Labor and Employment and constitutes a jump from P1.8 billion in 2020 — and this is just going to the agency’s general administration support and operations.
We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has entailed more expenses for OFWs, but OWWA has to be transparent with OFW funds. It has to disclose more information about how our funds are being spent, beyond making statements to the media or asking Congress for more allotment.
There should also be an honest-to-goodness and independent audit of OWWA funds, the results of which should be opened to public scrutiny. OFW money is the lifeblood of the country’s economy, and we cannot help but ask: will OFW funds, together with the P10 billion being requested, be used as the administration’s campaign kitty for the 2022 elections?
Despite the rollout of vaccines, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economies of KSA, the Middle East or West Asia, and the world. Many OFWs will continue to be laid off and need financial assistance of various kinds. OWWA, using OFW funds, should be ready to be of help.