By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Region 6 said more than 500,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are from the Western Visayas region.
OWWA-6 Labor Communications Officer Joyce Cornelio told the Philippine Information Agency’s (PIA) Talkshop last Friday that 588,143 migrant workers in 2021 are from Region 6.
Their data also indicated that Iloilo City and province accounted for the most OFWs from the region with 235,889.
Negros Occidental followed with 215,153, then Capiz (54,517), Antique (35,926), Aklan (31,517), and Guimaras (15,141).
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported in January 2022 that 675,567 OFWs were deployed from January to November 2021. This means that Western Visayas accounted for 87 percent of the deployment last year.
Cornelio said that OFW migration is going up again since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic struck in March 2020.
It is because of this that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) closed down its AKAP financial assistance program for OFWs.
The AKAP program, which was funded under Republic Act Nos. 11469 (Bayanihan to Heal As One Act) and 11494 (Bayanihan to Recover As One Act), has already helped up to 24,000 displaced OFWs with a one-time award of P10,000.00.
“We implemented the DOLE-AKAP in the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 […] for OFWs who were displaced from work during the pandemic under [Rep. Act Nos. 11469 and 11494]. […] For those who are interested to apply, unfortunately, the portal already closed down in January 2022 because our OFWs have been gradually going back overseas,” she said.
Those with pending AKAP applications may track their status via the OWWA’s online AKAP tracker. There are approved AKAP applications since May 2021 which have not yet been funded since May 2021, and Cornelio says that the DOLE is still waiting for funding.
Aside from the AKAP program, the OWWA through the DOLE also implemented the Educational Assistance through Scholarship in Emergencies (EASE) project which provides a P10,000 a year scholarship for 4 years for college-level dependents of active OWWA members from February 1, 2020 onwards. The EASE project currently has 707 scholars in Western Visayas.
There was also the Tabang OFW project under the DOLE and the Commission on Higher Education which gave a one-time P30,000 assistance to college-level dependents of members whether active or inactive. It ended last December 2021.
But active members are still entitled to regular OWWA services including the ‘Balik Pinas! Balik Hanapbuhay! Program, for distressed OFWs with maximum livelihood assistance of P20,000, including for those who were terminated because they were not fit to work, they got sick abroad, or their company closed down.
OWWA is the DOLE’s attached agency that promotes and implements programs and services for the welfare of OFWs. It is currently transitioning to become an attached agency of the Department of Migrant Workers, which was created under Republic Act No. 11641 as a separate department catering to OFWs.
OFWs need to pay US$25 for OWWA membership which is good for two years, and once their membership expires, they are referred to simply as inactive OWWA members.
Active OWWA members are entitled to an array of Social Benefits, Education and Training, Repatriation and Reintegration Services.
They provide Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars for OFWs prior to their deployment, and likewise are present overseas through their overseas posts and the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO).