Ounce of wisdom for lawmakers

CONGRESS has power of the purse.  Most of the time,  lawmakers think appropriation is the cure for all dilemmas.  Last week, members of the House of Representatives thought this way while addressing the issues faced by migrant workers but a government executive gave them an ounce of wisdom.

Reminding lawmakers money is not always the solution to problems, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III  said that repatriation of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is not assured by funding alone.

In a hybrid public hearing of the House Public Accounts Committee chaired by Rep. Mike Defensor, Bello said even bigger funding won’t bring home displaced migrant workers in the absence of other equally important factors.

In repatriating our OFWs, we also have to consider the lockdowns imposed by countries where they are working..

The ‘lock-ins’ and ‘lock-outs’ in infected nations are still major stumbling blocks in the process even if the Philippines opens its doors to migrant workers amid its own restrictions to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Another factor to be considered are the legal impediments tied to the exit visas, loans and cases of OFWs who want to go home.

It really gets frustrating when foreign employers refuse to give the exit visas of our OFWs to stop them from returning to the Philippines. There are many employers like that abroad. Repatriation of OFWs also becomes difficult to achieve when they still have loans to settle and complaints to face.

Bello joined other Labor officials in the six-hour hearing to clarify issues on the challenges experienced by OFWs affected by the pandemic.

In his manifestation, House Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Ray ‘LRay’ Villafuerte pushed for more funds to boost government efforts to bring home the troubled migrant workers.

“Can we repatriate all our OFWs if we use more funds?” Villafuerte asked Bello. The Labor Secretary replied ‘no’ but explained bigger funds can boost the whole-lot-of-government approach to save OFWs from their misery.

The best solution to the problem of our beloved OFWs is still the tight coordinated efforts of all concerned government agencies and private sector.

Meanwhile, the government is ready to serve more OFWs displaced by the pandemic.

DOLE’s assistance programs and other measures to aid the beleaguered migrant workers are in place the moment they arrive in the country.

Bello welcomed the assurance of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to allow more airlines to fly for OFW repatriation.

CAAP has been strictly regulating flights in the country to help control the spread of the deadly coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19).

The restriction however has prevented government to maximize its initiatives to fetch migrant workers who want to return home after losing their jobs because of the outbreak.

CAAP Diredtor General Jim Sydiongco said the agency is willing to increase the number of flights to bring home more OFWs.

“Our permit to fly is actually based on requests and not on restrictions. So if government agencies request more flights to help our displaced workers abroad, we allow them,” Sydiongco said.

The clarification from CAAP is good news for the repatriation efforts led by the labor department to aid thousands of crisis-hit migrant workers around the globe.

With CAAP’s permission, we can now bring home more OFWs so they can find refuge in their own country and be reunited with their families.

CAAP need not to worry about the arrival of more OFWs because DOLE is more than ready to accommodate them.

“We now have systems to locate and track OFWs so that while they signify their intention of flying home, preparations for them are already being made such as testing, hotel accommodation, and transport service to their places of origin,” Bello said.

The labor chief was referring to the OFW Assistance Information System (OASIS) of DOLE developed to locate migrant workers and help government prepare the needs of returning OFWs.

“What’s important is the readiness of the government to provide prompt and appropriate service for our OFWs,” he added.

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