The joy and relief of Filipinos returning from Lebanon quickly turns to feelings of distress as they remember the hardships they endured abroad and realize the anxiety of being jobless in the Philippines. Seeing their distressed faces and hearing their cries, one would easily see the desperation that has compelled Filipinos to face so many hardships and to risk life and limb just to earn a “decent” income.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
The debate over the true state of the nation seems to be dying down. Reactions, after all, to the grand infrastructure plans of President Arroyo are now being overshadowed by other pressing concerns.
Hugging the headlines are news about the war in Lebanon; the daily trickles of arrivals of overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) fleeing that war-torn country; and the bickering between Ambassador Alfrancis Bichara, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Agency (OWWA) over who has the money and who is to blame over the slow pace in the repatriation of our OFWs.
Analyzing these, however, one cannot help but be reminded of the state of the nation today.
There is the usual bickering between departments and agencies of government. Ironically, OWWA is probably the last agency of government that would experience lack of funds. Every OFW pays a membership fee of $25 aside from the various fees and licenses required which amounts to an average of P17,925 ($347.65, based on an exchange rate of P51.56 per US dollar). Given that there are about eight million OFWs, OWWA and the government should not have any problem with funds. It is practically the remittances of OFWs already amounting to $4.9 billion for the first five months of 2006 alone — which by government estimates will surpass the record $10.7 billion remittances in 2005 — that has kept the economy afloat.
The OWWA fund was also allegedly depleted because of questionable transfer of funds. Migrante International revealed that P530 million ($10.28 million) in Medicare funds for OFWs was transferred to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) at the time that President Arroyo was distributing PhilHealth cards during the run-up to the 2004 elections. Another questionable re-channeling of funds was the P23.59 million ($457,467.03) allocated to the International Labor Affairs office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).