OWWA duty-bound to help OFWs in distress

MANILA, Philippines — A migrant workers' group on Thursday urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to state how much of the estimated P10 billion welfare fund have been used for assistance and services to distressed overseas Filipino workers.

Migrante-Middle East issued the challenge in reaction to OWWA Administration Carmelita Dimzon's statement that the welfare fund is for members only.

Dimzon was reacting to a request by John Leonard Monterona, Migrante regional coordinator for the Middle East, for the OWWA to do its mandated function of providing urgent protection and welfare to distressed OFWs.

Monterona’s remark was prompted by the repatriation on Wednesday of 30 more OFWs stranded in the United Arab Emirates through the effort of Sen. Manuel Villar.

In a statement on Thursday, Monterona said they found the statement of Dimzon to be untoward.

"OWWA is one of the lead government agencies tasked to help repatriate distressed OFWs, documented or not, and Dimzon, as OWWA administrator, is duty-bound to assist them. The truth is OWWA failed to provide welfare assistance and services to our distressed compatriot workers abroad," he said.

OWWA officials were also asked to be inspired by Villar's ability to match words with actions.

In his television advertisements, Villar had been saying, "Sagipin natin sila. Tulungan natin sila (Let's rescue them. Let's help them)," referring to distressed OFWs.

Monterona said Dimzon could do OFWs justice by showing how much of the total OWWA fund have been released for the assistance of distressed OFWs as compared to the amount misused and diverted for political gains by the Arroyo administration.

Monterona said Dimzon missed the fact that the OWWA Omnibus policies makes an OFW’s membership renewable after every two years, which means those who fail to renew their membership even for reasons beyond their control won’t be able to avail themselves of OWWA services even if they are still abroad.

Other migrant groups have earlier said those affected adversely by the OWWA’s policy are mostly domestic helpers in the Middle East who are often not allowed to go on vacation for years.

“That's the very reason why OFWs and their families objected the implementation of the OWWA Omnibus policies," Monterona said.

The group said there are mounting complaints from OFWs and their beneficiaries so they could not even avail themselves of OWWA's limited services and programs despite the increasing amount of money OWWA collects from OFW members.

OWWA collects $25 from each OFW every two years.

Happy to share

Monterona said OFWs and their families will be happy to see that their collective contributions to OWWA spent for the repatriation of fellow OFWs in distress and used for more welfare programs and services rather than be diverted or misused by the Arroyo administration.

"I am much willing to donate or pass my benefits and entitlement in the form of repatriation fund for one or two stranded OFWs so that they could be sent home and re-unite with their love ones this Christmas. I am expecting OWWA to heed on this humble request," he said.

Migrante-ME said it has been observed that the OWWA funds has been misused and corrupted, not for purpose of providing welfare programs and services to OFWs and their families as mandated.

It serves as a "milking" fund by the past and the present administrations as revealed on the numerous cases of fund misused., the group said.

Migrante's records revealed some of the alleged anomalous investments and misuse of OFW funds:

• Buy out of Frederick Hotel;

• Loan guarantee to Landoil Resources;

• Transfer of P4B OFW Medicare Fund from OWWA to Philippine Health and Insurance Corporation by virtue of a secret issuance of Executive Order 182 devoid of consultations from OFWs as stakeholders of these funds.

• The P260M bogus claims exposed by then OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo himself just to justify OWWA Medicare fund transfer to PhilHealth.

• The unaudited $293,500 for the Middle East Preparedness Team headed by retired General Roy Cimatu during the US war of aggression to Iraq where repatriation of OFWs never took place anyway.