MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino migrant group has expressed support for a proposed Senate law allotting a special P1-billion fund for the immediate repatriation and livelihood assistance of distressed overseas Filipino workers.
In an email to GMANews.TV, John Leonard Monterona, coordinator of Migrante International in the Middle East, said the group will campaign for the early passage and ratification of Senate Bill No. 2231 filed by Senate President Manuel “Manny" Villar.
“This measure would be a big help to ease OFWs in distress who are longing to be back home so that they could join their respective families," he said.
Once legislated, the proposed law will allot P1-billion to be used for repatriation, medical expenses, hospitalization, and medicine purchases until six months from arrival, migration fees for overstaying Filipinos, legal assistance, including litigation expenses, legal fees, payment of translation fees, attendance in court hearings, payment of blood money, when necessary, and basic necessities of OFWs caught in emergencies.
Besides planning to launch a signature campaign, Monterona said that the group will also send letters to all members of the House of Representatives, including the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, to consider filling counterpart bill in Congress.
Monterona said that Migrante will also conduct dialogs and discussions among members, member-organizations and fellow OFWs groups to further heighten awareness on the conditions of migrant workers stranded abroad.
“Villar’s SB 2231 is worthy of OFWs and their families’ support. We will campaign hard for its passage. However, we will urge our umbrella organization, Migrante International, to ask an audience with the good senator to discuss the bill and other important concerns of our sector," Monterona said.
He reiterated his appeal to the Senate to investigate alleged misuses of OFW trust fund under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and pass a measure defining its proper use of the fund.
In SB 2231, Villar said the special fund will cover both documented and undocumented OFWs in the government's assistance program.
“While there may be comprehensive set of laws protecting the overseas workers, its implementation in reality remains wanting. In particular, the funding requirement needed to effect a meaningful and truly caring migrant workers environment is negligible," Villar said in a statement.
In filing the bill, Villar noted that the P66-million allocation of a Department of Foreign Affairs budget intended for the Assistance to Nationals and the Legal Assistance Fund—two items used for OFW repatriation—is insufficient.
“It has been reported that a substantial number of Filipinos are in detention in various countries. Cases of maltreatment, abusive employers and harassmentsand the proportional upward spike in abductions and wars between and among countries have resulted in the increasing number of OFWs in distress. The Philippine embassies and consulates have been home to these unfortunate migrant workers waiting for repatriation," he said.
Migrante International said there is an estimated 2,000 distressed OFWs in the Middle East alone.
Last week, DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal said a total of 189 OFWs from different parts of the Middle East have returned to the Philippines.
The OFWs arrived by batches at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Out of the 189, about 61 came from Riyadh; seven from Manama, Bahrain; 10 from Abu Dhabi; 61 from Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia; 17 from Dubai and 33 from Kuwait.
Last month, 14 OFWs (nine from Jordan and five from Abu Dhabi) including three minors and an infant, arrived in the country after Villar sponsored their plane tickets.
Villar emphasized that helping distressed OFWs should not stop by bringing them back home.
“A substantial portion of the budget must be allotted to support the livelihood programs, or skills acquisition, education and training of these repatriated OFWs," he said. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV