DFA fears agency's OFWs assistance funds to 'run out' in Aug. as COVID-19 crisis continues

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 24 2020 06:18 PM

A DFA official welcomes OFWs arriving in Manila during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy: DFA

MANILA - A Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official on Wednesday said the agency's fund intended to assist overseas Filipino workers could "run out" by August if repatriation efforts entailing chartering of flights continue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DFA has already spent 66 percent of its P1 billion "assistance-to-nationals" fund, DFA Undersecretary Sarah Arriola told the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development.

"Our funds will run out by the end of August... The fund is not just for COVID-19," she said.

"We did not foresee that there will be COVID-19 so we are overspending," she said.

According to Arriola, the agency is looking to bring home some 167,000 OFWs, of whom, more than 158,000 are working in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Repatriation efforts are taking time due to aviation and health restrictions, she said.

"We are calibrating the repatriation... We do not want them to be stranded in Metro Manila and quarantine facilities," she explained.

Other foreign service posts in the Middle East are also having a hard time reaching some Filipino migrant workers due to lack of manpower and local policies.

"Riyadh alone is bigger than the Philippines. So it's very difficult for foreign service posts to respond to the needs of OFWs because of sheer size, lockdowns and also lack of manpower," Arriola said, noting that a Philippine labor office in Saudi was shut down after 16 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

"We are also having infections in Jeddah," she said.

Arriola said some 27,466 OFWs are set to be repatriated in the next 3 weeks after they completed their documentary requirements from their country of work.