by Vito Barcelo and Maricel Cruz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 Dec 2020
More than half million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were displaced by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) pandemic abroad, while 3.8 million workers lost their jobs, the Department of Labor and Employment said Thursday.
International Labor Affairs Bureau Director Alice Visperas said as of December 17, some 550,000 OFWs lost their jobs abroad, while an estimated 1.1 million more were unable to resume or start working overseas since January.
“Of this figure, 370,000 of the displaced were repatriated to their home provinces, 126,000 displaced are still waiting for their repatriation, and 82,000 displaced and opted to stay on-site,” she said in a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Bureau of Local Employment Director Dominique Rubia-Tutay said 3.8 million workers in the country were also adversely affected by the pandemic.
“These are composed of those who were retrenched, permanently displaced, those undergoing flexible work arrangements and those still under temporary closure,” she said.
However, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that despite the high number of displaced workers, the country’s employment situation is now showing signs of improvement, with more companies resuming operations.
Bello noted that most of the displaced workers nationwide were affected by temporary closures, meaning they will be rehired when the companies reopen.
To address the high unemployment rate, Bello said DOLE supported the Department of Trade and Industry’s move to allow companies under general community quarantine to operate at 100 percent capacity.
“In terms of our responses, we were able to provide 658,886 workers in the private sector with P3.311 billion in assistance under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program or CAMP utilizing our regular fund,” Bello said.
He said 423,511 workers in the informal sector were able to receive P1.591 billion in emergency employment under the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program.
Meanwhile, roughly P3.5 billion was disbursed in cash assistance to close to 350,000 OFWs displaced by the pandemic under the AKAP or the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong program funded under Bayanihan 1.
Under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, a total of P16.4 billion for cash assistance was allocated to DOLE.
Of the amount, P4.1 billion was allotted under CAMP for formal sector workers, P300 million under CAMP for private educational institution workers, and P3.1 billion under CAMP for tourism sector workers; P6.2 billion for TUPAD for informal sector workers; P239 million for the DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program or DOLE Kabuhayan Program; P2 billion for AKAP; and P500 million for OWWA’s Emergency Repatriation Program.
To date, more than 70 percent of the funds has been disbursed, except for CAMP for the tourism sector and AKAP.
The pandemic has prompted the labor department to issue labor advisories, policy orders, and memorandum circulars jointly with other agencies to protect the workers and help businesses cope with the crippling effect of the health crisis.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading a bill giving millions of OFWs a 50-percent discount on fees and charges on remittances they regularly send to their families.
Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr., principal author of Bill 7951, said the bill, if it becomes a law, “would save OFWs billions in remittance fees that their families could use as additional funds during this time of pandemic.”
Citing official data, he said the country’s “modern day heroes” sent home about $28 billion (P1.4 trillion) in 2017 through official channels, paying remittance charges ranging from six percent to 10 percent, or an average of eight percent.
“At eight percent, the total cost of remitting the P1.4 trillion to OFW families amounted to P112 billion. Cutting that by half would mean an additional P56 billion in the pockets of OFWs families, money they could spend for necessities,” he said.
A counterpart measure has been filed in the Senate by boxing icon Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
Under Bill 7951, banks and other remittance centers can claim the 50-percent discount on fees as an expense that they can deduct from their gross income for taxation purposes.
They are prohibited from increasing their current fees without consultation with the Department of Finance, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
They are also required to post in a conspicuous place in their establishments the peso equivalent of the OFWs’ foreign currency remittances. Such peso equivalent shall be the same amount to be received by the OFW beneficiary-families.
The proposed law enumerates several prohibited acts, including imposition of excessive fees, failure to post the conversion rate, conversion of the OFW remittance to the disadvantage of his beneficiary, and taking of the remittance without the consent of the OFW or his beneficiary.
It imposes the penalty of imprisonment ranging from two months and one day to 12 years, depending on the gravity of the offense.
Aside from criminal liability, banks and other remittance centers that commit any of the prohibited acts face fines and other sanctions from the BSP.
The bill also mandates the BSP, DOF, POEA, and other concerned agencies to provide financial education to OFWs and their families.
The DOF, in consultation with relevant agencies, bankers’ associations and OFW groups, would issue implementing rules and regulations.