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More displaced Saudi OFWs to be repatriated this month

Another 2,000 displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are scheduled to be repatriated this month.

Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III disclosed the bulk of these OFWs will soon be arriving in the country.

“The goal is to repatriate the first batch of 2,000 OFWs between August 20 and the first week of September,” Bello said.

He issued the statement yesterday with the arrival of the initial batch of 129 OFWs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.

The 129 OFWs, who were among the 11,000 Filipinos retrenched by nine large Saudi establishments, were met by President Duterte together with Bello, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

GOV’T ASSISTANCE

Bello urged the remaining OFWs to also avail of the government’s ongoing repatriation program to avoid their hardships in KSA after their financially troubled employers failed to pay their back wages and other entitlements.

He assured them the government will help them collect their monetary benefits and provide them with other sources of income once they have been repatriated.

‘NEGLECTED’ OFWS

In a related development, DOLE also addressed the complaints from 18 stranded OFWs in KSA, who claimed they still have not received the promised financial aid from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) after it run out of funds.

United Overseas Filipinos Worldwide (U-OFW) convener John Monterona claimed the OFWs were turned away by embassy personnel in KSA.

“We call on DOLE chief Silvestre Bello III to look into this matter and immediately instruct OWWA chief Rebecca J. Calzado to arrange the prompt release of allotted money from the P500-million OWWA RAP fund,” Monterona said in a separate statement.

ASSISTANCE FUND

Last July, OWWA allocated P500 million to fund its Relief Assistance Program (RAP) for the 11,000 displaced OFWs together with their families.

Bello admitted that only around half of the P500 million budget was sent to KSA to avoid drawing unnecessary suspicion from Saudi authorities.

“Our welfare officers (in KSA) were afraid they may have to explain the large amount. So we decided to send the amount in tranches,” Bello said in an interview.

“We urge them to be patient. We will send (the remaining balance) within two weeks. We are doing everything to facilitate the remittance,” he added.

Bello pointed out they are now also in talk with DFA to facilitate the fund transfer.

Based from its latest report, OWWA said it has already released around P135 million for the RAP to benefits more than 10,000 qualified OFWs and their families as of August 18, 2016.

DFA FUNDING

Meantime, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. assured that the government has sufficient funds to extend assistance to all distressed Filipinos overseas.

During the House Committee on Appropriations briefing on the DFA’s proposed P16.63-billion budget for 2017 on Tuesday, he made the assurance even as he disclosed that as of August 15, 2016, a total of 2,492 Filipinos are detained abroad for drug-related charges and at least three Filipinos are on death row in China for drug-related offenses.

The legal assistance fund for 2017 pegs at P100 million, same amount with this year’s allocation under the 2016 General Appropriations Act.

Assistant Secretary Celeste Balatbat also assured that despite the 20-percent budget cut, the P100-million legal assistance fund and P400-million Assistance to Nationals’ (ATN) fund to aid distressed OFWs remain intact. (With a report from Charissa M. Luci)