OWWA says bankruptcy 'looming large' over COVID-19 repatriation spending

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 24 2020 02:18 PM


MANILA - The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Wednesday warned of a "largely looming" bankruptcy should the agency continue to spend for the food, accommodation and transportation of repatriated migrant workers beyond 2021.

OWWA's P18.79-billion fund is expected to be reduced to P10 billion by the end of 2020, and plunge below P1 billion by the end of 2021 should overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) continue to be displaced and repatriated due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Administrator Hans Cacdac told senators during a hybrid hearing.

"It's looming large... assuming all the factors currently happening continue," Cacdac said when Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked if the OWWA was on the verge of bankruptcy.

OWWA, a membership institution that collects contributions from members, had P19 billion at the start of 2020, but had to spend P1.145 billion between March and May to feed, house and transport some 70,000 repatriates stranded in airports and ships docked in ports while waiting for COVID-19 test results, Cacdac said.

The OFWs were among migrant workers who had lost their jobs or sought to come home as coronavirus lockdowns were enforced in many parts of the world.

The agency is "braced to spend P2.5 billion in the next few weeks" after the OWWA board authorized the distribution of financial assistance and scholarship packages for migrant workers displaced by the global pandemic, he said.

Another P800 million is allocated for the reintegration of OFWs who returned home before the pandemic. 

"This is an ongoing expense... We are worried about the future," Cacdac said.

"We are caught in a bind. We are not sure if we should hold on to the money given that 2021 may be worse, or go out and give full assistance to OFWs now," he said.

 P5 BILLION SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET

OWWA has asked Congress for a P5 billion supplemental budget to prolong the fund's sustainability.

While the agency collected some P2 billion from OFW payments in previous years, it only yielded P609 million in investment returns, Cacdac said.

Congress needs to "review" OWWA's investment structure as the current law only allows the agency to invest in government securities, Drilon said.

The OWWA has also opened a loan program for OFWs with a 7.5 percent interest rate per annum to help generate funds for the agency, the administrator said.

The government expects between 100,000 and 200,000 more OFWs to return to the Philippines should the COVID-19 crisis continue this year.