05/05/2008 | 02:07 PM
MANILA, Philippines - A migrant workersâ€™ group claimed that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administrationâ€™s (OWWA) admission that it lost about P70 million in pre-departure loans extended to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was merely a cover-up to the agencyâ€™s ineptitude in managing its funds.
John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East (Migrante-ME) regional coordinator, said Labor officials used the admission as an opportunity to stop the welfare programs given to OFWs and their families.
"OWWA has been mismanaging the fund, a compulsory collection of $25 per OFW, which is believed to have reached P10 billion held in trust by the government," said Monterona.
Labor Secretary Marianito Roque on Sunday said he decided to suspend the said OWWA assistance after the OFWs failed to pay their loans.
Roque said the OWWA allocated P100 million for the pre-departure loan program. However, he stopped the program when loans that were largely unpaid reached P70 million.
Monterona however claimed that Roque was "forced" to admit such losses after lawmakers were about to investigate the alleged misuse of OWWA funds.
During the public hearing of the House Committee on Overseas Filipino last week, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman scored OWWA for not immediately adjusting the peso equivalent of the $25 OWWA membership fee when the dollar depreciated in 2007.
Monterona explained that the pre-departure loans for OFWs had been suspended right after the OWWA Omnibus Policies was passed and implemented by the agencyâ€™s Governing Board headed by then Labor secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas.
"Such admission of OWWA losses is not new to us. We have been hearing the same old story. The OWWA Administrator usually admits losses of OWWA funds to cover up huge misuses and mismanagement of the fund," Monterona said.
Migrante-MEâ€™s regional coordinator recalled an incident when former OWWA Administrator Virgilio Angelo claimed that the agency allotted P260 million in welfare programs and loans for OFWs "only to justify the transfer of a P4-billion OWWA Medicare fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) prior to the 2002 presidential election."
"We suspect more hidden misuses and diversion of funds have been done or charged to OWWA fund," Monterona said.
Monterona said that because the OWWA fund was perched at the P10-billion mark, it was prudent to consider lowering the OFW membership fees especially in a time of soaring prices of basic commodities.
"Lowering of OWWA membership fee and removal of other unnecessary government fees charged and collected from OFWs and aspiring alike would surely bring ease to OFWs and their families in time of economic crisis," Monterona concluded. - Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV