Storm on OFW horizon Fund readied for returnees


BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

PRESIDENT Arroyo yesterday said the government is setting up an Expatriate Livelihood Support Fund for overseas Filipino workers who might be displaced by the global financial crisis.

She said the support fund is part of the contingency measures that the labor department and the government’s economic managers have crafted to cushion the impact of a feared global economic recession.

“It can serve as a counterpart fund for returning expats’ livelihood progress,” she said.

The contingency plan was presented in the Cabinet meeting Tuesday in Malacañang. Its details would be made public at the Philippine Business Forum on October 22, she said.

During the Cabinet meeting, Labor Secretary Marianito Roque allayed fears of a reduced demand for Filipino workers abroad. He also dismissed reports that more OFWs stand to lose their jobs especially in the United States.

He said if there are returning OFWs, the reason is that either their contracts have expired or they have been terminated.

The United Opposition on Tuesday challenged the government to move as it said it was not ready to provide jobs and other means of livelihood to OFWs who may be displaced by the financial crunch affecting not only the United States but also Europe and major cities of Asia, all major importers of Filipino workers.

About eight million Filipinos are working abroad.

UNO said until now, the government has not come up with a comprehensive reintegration program when the country has been deploying Filipino workers abroad since the ‘70s.

Eighty OFWs returned in the past two days, 52 of them from Romania.

The returning workers from Romania are sewers at a garment factory called Mundo Star, an exporter of high-quality coats, blazers, tuxedos, and trousers to the US.

“Heto po ako, nasawing palad,” said Mirasol Sacarias, 48, of Taytay, Rizal. “Isa po ako sa mga nabigo ang pangarap.”

She said she had planned to work five years abroad but her employment was cut short to five months.

Zacarias left April 30 with a contract of $400 a month for the next two years. Because of bad business, her salary was slashed to $164 a month, she said.

Juliana Cunanan, 40, of Antipolo City, said their salaries were cut because of poor exports. She said they resigned en masse after the owner refused to give them the agreed on salary.

Exporters are among the hardest hit by the crises because of declining demand from businesses in the US and elsewhere.

Albert Valenciano, director of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the OFWs were repatriated as a preventive measure.

“Inilikas namin sila para din na magtagal at maghirap pa doon,” he said.

While in the country, the OFWs can avail of vocational training that can be provided by OWWA in computers and other technical courses, he said.

Valenciano, who accompanied the workers from Europe, said he could not say what other businesses employing large numbers of OFWs would lay off workers or cut back on overhead.

Local recruiters, encouraged by Roque’s statements, told Filipinos planning to seek work abroad to do do.

Emmanuel Geslani agreed with Roque in saying there are more than enough jobs available in the international market.

“Apply lang ng apply… They should just push with their dreams of working abroad. There is more than enough demand for jobs for them,” Geslani said.

He said the Western market, which is the most affected by the crisis, accounts for only a small portion of the OFW sector.

“The Middle East market is really a very big market for OFWs and it can actually accommodate even those who might be affected by the recession,” Geslani said.

Arroyo said her economic managers have come up with other measures to cushion the impact of the feared recession in the US. These include pump priming the economy, expanding social services, and upgrading infrastructure.

On infrastructure, the government will accelerate spending by government financial institutions, government-owned and -controlled corporations, the private sector, and local government units.

Financing for the increased infrastructure spending would be sourced from both public and private sector sources like the annual budget, official development assistance, corporate funds, and proceeds mandated by law like the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

It will also be funded through public-private partnership or joint ventures and through a national government-local government unit cost sharing.

Arroyo said her government will continue investing on programs designed to address poverty and hunger, which she said are the best defense against the global crisis.

Sen. Loren Legarda asked OWWA to make a categorical statement on what support OFWs can expect from the agency in case they are laid off.

Legarda said that government as a whole must put into effect tangible reintegration and livelihood generation programs for the affected OFWs.

Otherwise, it would be seen as merely paying lip-service to them in calling them “bagong bayani” or new heroes, she said. With Jay Chua, Gerard Naval and JP Lopez (Malaya)

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