Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia A. Sto. Tomas today reported that the assets of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) have reached P8-billion in the year 2004.

Sto. Tomas, citing a report from Administrator Marianito D. Roque of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, said that because of the positive growth, “the institution stands on a much more solid financial ground than before.”

The solid financial strength of OWWA was the result of the implementation its new Omnibus Policies initiated by the OWWA Board of Trustees chaired by Secretary Sto. Tomas
to rationalize and strengthen the benefits of OWWA members.

As a result of the tight financial discipline and controls started by Sto. Tomas and affirmed and implemented by virtue of the new policies she initiated, the OWWA has attained to its much higher financial standing. “More money means more and better welfare and protection services for our overseas Filipino workers and their families,” the labor and employment chief said.

Sto. Tomas also expressed confidence that OFW remittances in 2004 will surmount the $7.6 billion the overseas workers remitted in 2003 and surpass the US$ 8-billion mark. She said this as total OFW remittances worldwide earlier grew by a hefty 9.49 percent (or $601 million more) to US$6.937 billion in the year’s first ten months from $6.336 billion in the same period in 2003.

She said the increase in the dollar remittances of the OFWs has been complemented by the growth in global OFW deployment, notwithstanding the loss of 47,000 new overseas jobs amidst the necessary ban on the deployment of OFWs to war-torn Iraq.

OIC and Deputy Administrator Carmelita S. Dimzon of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported that some 871,700 documented OFWs have been deployed worldwide as of year-end 2004. The increase in deployment was attributed to the rise in the employment of seafarers reaching 225,122 last year compared to the 216,031 Filipino seafarers deployed worldwide in 2003.

Amidst these developments, the OWWA’s new Omnibus Policies have ensured the indispensable protection that the OFWs are entitled in the course of overseas work. Without increasing the US$25 membership fee, OWWA gave OFW members a 300 percent increase to P200,000 in their accident insurance benefits together with a 100 percent to P100,000 in their life insurance benefits under the Fund.

Under the same policies, an OWWA member is also covered by disability and dismemberment benefits from P2,000 to P50,000. In compliance with RA 8042, OWWA ensures a pre-departure (PDL) and a family assistance loan (FAL) to OFWs of up to P40,000.

In addition, the policies ensure social services and family welfare assistance consisting of the Reintegration and Repatriation Program for OFWs that is implemented by the DOLE via the OWWA in coordination with various non-government organizations (NGOs) and local government units (LGUs).

Also, the OWWA grants educational and training benefits including the Skills-for-Employment Scholarship Program (SESP), Education for Development Scholarship Program, and Seafarers’ Upgrading Program. Finally, complementing the OWWA benefits for members, distressed OFWs, whether undocumented or documents, are provided with free legal and medical assistance, social counseling, and temporary shelter and refuge at various Filipino Workers Resource Centers (FWRCs) overseas.

Meanwhile, Sto. Tomas said that the OWWA and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) would continue their joint Christmas Peak Season Project until January 15, 2005 for the benefit of the estimated 100,000 or more OFWs from around the world who are currently spending their Christmas in the Philippines with their families.

“Indeed, helping our modern day heroes via the services the government as well as the private sector can offer them is a concrete way of welcoming them on the Christmas season and affording them with a hassle free and quality vacation,” she said.

The Christmas Peak Season Project for vacationing OFWs was launched by the two agencies as the country started the annual, national tradition for the OFWs and their families called Pamaskong Handog sa OFWs.

The joint project is dedicated to hassle-free processing of OFWs’ “exit papers” which are mandatory requirements on their return to overseas work following their vacation. Prior to an OFW’s departure from the Philippines, his or her papers may already be processed at the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) or at Terminals 1 and 2 (Departure and Arrival Area) of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport or the Centennial Airport.

As the OFW takes his or her vacation, he or she may acquire his/her papers at POEA/OWWA regional offices, or at convenient POEA-OWWA counters set up in major shopping malls nationwide. The malls are the Robinson’s Galleria, SM Pampanga, SM Iloilo, SM Cebu, SM Davao, Festival Mall in Alabang, and Duty Free Philippines. An OFW may also present his/her OFW e-card to get his/her required Exit Clearance via the Balik-Manggagawa Express Clearance Delivery System at the POEA’s Balik Manggagawa Processing Center for OFWs, Sto. Tomas said.

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