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Over 600,000 displaced OFWs sought assistance amid pandemic —DOLE

A total of 604,403 displaced overseas Filipino workers sought assistance from the government amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said on Sunday.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is responding to the requests for assistance.

The 604,403 OFWs—broken down into 349,977 overseas and 254,426 repatriated—sought DOLE's cash aid as of August 15, based on data from OWWA and the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs).

About 272,000 OFWs' requests for cash aid were already approved.

Under the DOLE's Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program, OFWs affected by the pandemic may be given a one-time $200 or P10,000 assistance.

The AKAP program has a total funding of P2.5 billion which can benefit 250,000 OFWs.

The DOLE said the fund is almost fully depleted as P2.436 billion has already been disbursed to assist 237,778 OFWs as of Saturday.

Bello said President Rodrigo Duterte ordered last week that P5 billion additional funds be released for the repatriation of and assistance to OFWs. Most of these funds went to OWWA.

The Labor secretary also said as of Saturday, a total of 146,658 returning OFWs were brought to their home provinces.

The latest batch consisting of 3,081 repatriated OFWs tested negative for COVID-19 before they were allowed to go home to their provinces.

An earlier batch which left for provinces on Friday had 2,743 OFWs.

The DOLE said the OFWs were provided free transportation, hotel accommodation and other assistance while they waited for the results of their COVID-19 tests.

In his State of the Nation Address last month, Duterte tasked government agencies to assist OFWs whose livelihoods were adversely affected by the COVID-9 pandemic.

Duterte directed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to offer special training programs which can provide new job opportunities for OFWs.

The President also ordered the Commission on Higher Education to provide scholarship programs for the qualified dependents of OFWs.

Duterte further asked the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry to provide agricultural businesses and entrepreneurial programs to "rebuild" the livelihood of the OFWs.

He also said the government's financial institutions must provide low-interest loans for OFWs. —KG, GMA News