By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — In a statement released by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) July 5, Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III said the government needs to service the needs of the increasing number of repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic with a new budget request of ₱2.5 billion.

“The fund released to us is fast depleting. So far, our offices approved the requests of 224,756 OFWs, 128,348 of whom are still locked down or stranded in their countries of work,” Bello said.

As of July 4, Bello said DOLE’s overseas offices and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) recorded a total of 551,606 aid applications from both land-based and sea-based workers who are either still in host countries or have returned to the Philippines.

Data from DOLE showed it already gave ₱2.5 billion in two tranches to finance the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP), a one-time emergency cash aid of $200 or ₱10,000 to help OFWs displaced by the pandemic under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

DOLE revealed that about 56,283 OFWs are yet to receive their assistance. The additional funding request sis set to help 250,000 OFWs.

Of the total beneficiaries, 188,473 already received the cash aid as of July 4 amounting to ₱1.927 billion.

“Of those who have received the aid, 105,756 are on-site while the remaining have returned to the country,” DOLE said, with Bello optimistic President Rodrigo Duterte will grant the additional funding request.

“Our OFWs are very dear to our President. Basta para as ating OFWs, ibinibigay nya agad ang tulong,” he said.

“Napakalaking bagay kung higit na marami sa ating mga kababayan ang mabibigyan natin ng tulong,” he added.

3000 PH firms to temporarily close doors

In another report by GMA News, Bello said over 3,000 local businesses have notified DOLE they will be closing their operations temporarily in the wake of the pandemic.

Bello reiterated that no firm in the country has so far filed for bankruptcy but 200 have already confirmed they will be permanently closing down, with around 2.7 million workers and their livelihoods affected by the ongoing pandemic.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed 7.3 million Filipinos were left jobless in April as a result of COVID-19 and its economic impact.

“Maaaring totoo ‘yun pero ang kaibahan sa aming report, ‘yung amin actual, ‘yung talagang nagsabi na ‘magsasara kami,'” Bello said.

Bello, on the other hand, is hoping the House of Representatives would provide an amelioration fund to help affected workers.

“Hindi ko alam kung ano ang plano ng Kongreso pero alam naman natin na ang House of Representatives at Senado ay concerned sila sa kalagayan ng ating mga manggagawa. Malaking bagay diyan ‘yung ating mga manggagawa na mawalan ng trabaho, kahit temporary, pero siyempre, wala kang trabaho, wala kang kita,” he said.

Last month, Congress approved on final reading House Bill 6815 or the proposed “Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) Act” in a bid to help address the economic impact of the pandemic.

Under the Bill, wage subsidies will be provided to non-essential businesses (50-75 percent of wages), self-employed and freelancers (75 percent of minimum wage), and overseas Filipino workers (₱15,000 per month), all for a period of two months.

Moreover, a total of ₱110 billion will be allocated for wage subsidies.