By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — The Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program which provides ₱10,000 assistance to COVID-displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) has already helped 338.900 and disbursed ₱3.45 billion.

The program initially targeted beneficiaries of 550,000 following its roll-out last April, with DOLE noting at least 78,414 applicants out of 683,000 have been denied.

Under the second Bayanihan law, the program would get a new ₱2 billion funding and DOLE said it will help 200,000 more OFWs.

In a text message to The BusinessMirror, International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) Director Alice Visperas said they will soon be tapping the new funding finally released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

The amount has been downloaded last week into DOLE’s regional offices and Philippine Overseas Labor Office ( POLO), which will facilitate its distribution to qualified AKAP beneficiaries.

In a report by The Philippine Star, a DOLE official last September estimated that more than 700,000 OFWs may be displaced from their jobs should COVID-19 infections continue to send economies into recession.

DOLE’s figures showed OFWs remaining in the countries where they work submitted more applications to AKAP at 359,111 than those who have returned home at 323,458.

DOLE’s figures showed that OFWs remaining in the countries where they work yielded more applications from AKAP at 359,111, while those who have returned home at 323,458.

Beginning Monday, those bound for repatriation may submit their application to the AKAP even before arriving in the country, with the agency saying they could receive the cash aid within three to five days.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced nearly 320,000 Filipino workers abroad to fly back to the country, per a report by the Labor department as well.

AKAP applications may now be filed online

In another report by Manila Bulletin, DOLE said OFWs scheduled for repatriation to the Philippines may file their application for AKAP prior to their arrival starting November 30, online.

DOLE said OFWs will receive their benefits three to five days after submission of complete documents, with all applicants set to be accepted through the website.

“This will shorten the waiting period of OFW applicants as they are now allowed to apply while still onsite and receive the financial assistance once they come back home to the Philippines,” DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello II said, noting the shift online will also allow the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to process and evaluate the applications in advance.

Bello assured that the streamlining of the process followed President Duterte’s directive as they aim to enable more OFWs to benefit from the one-time cash.

Displaced OFWs who will remain onsite may file their application through the POLO covering their workplace while stranded Balik-Manggagawa and seafarers whose deployments were suspended due to COVID-19 and those who have been and will be repatriated before November 30 can file their applications through

In its report by  Bello, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said 319,333 OFWs were transported to their respective provinces as of November 21 after they were cleared and tested negative of COVID-19.

For November, a total of 38,516 OFWs were transported to their destinations.

As of November 30, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported no new recovery and two fatalities among Filipinos abroad infected with COVID-19 while the number of infections rose to 11,560 as 16 new cases were recorded.

There are now 3,348 active COVID-19 cases among Filipinos abroad, with 7,497 already recovered while 847 have died.