Sunday, August 06, 2006

The OWWA Fund Mess: OFWs Nightmare

The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration has been created mainly to address OFW emergency needs. The escalating Lebanon conflict exposed our government's ineptness at dealing with a crisis of this nature and magnitutde.

The OWWA Fund is much like the SSS or GSIS. It is there to be used by contributing members for their medical needs and other personal matters. It was never intended to be used as an evacuation/repatriation fund. Nor was it ever created to be "used" as campaign funds for a presidential wanna-be.

The congress had embarked on an investigation to finally ferret out the truth if indeed the OWWA funds has been misused. The senate committee headed by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada had invited officials of OWWA, the DFA and DoLE to shed light on what actions the government has taken to repatriate our OFWs in war-torn Lebanon. While most countries had been taking their nationals out of Lebanon since day 2 of the conflict, the Philippine government has been taking its sweet time to evacuate ours.

Amb. Al Bichara revealed a shortage of funds for the operation. Because of this, allegations that misuse of the OWWA funds had been revived. John Marzan in his blogpost discusses this allegation with additional details to enlighten the reader.

Malacanang has once again invoked EO 464 (declared unconstitution by the Supreme Court) preventing these officials from attending any investigation conducted by congress. This action has led many to believe that indeed, the allegation that GMA used the OWWA funds to augment her campaign kitty. GMA had also created a Lebanon Taskforce to handle the repatriation operation. It is headed by VP de Castro.

Now that the conflict has escalated, GMA orders the forced evacuation of all 34,000 OFWs in Lebanon. When southern Lebanon has been levelled to the ground, when bridges and roads leading to safety has been destroyed, why only now? The IOM and other nations had been lending us a hand at evacuating our OFWs.

GMA had boasted that we have adequate funds for the evacuation. The government has been releasing funds in trickles. The point here is, the president should have used her presidential pork barrel instead of relying on the OWWA fund. She has at her disposal billions in emergency funds even with a re-enacted budget. A re-enacted budget gives GMA the power to use excess funds in whichever way she pleases. Our OFWs are living a nightmare in Lebanon because the government never had a working contingency plan, and a presidency obsessed with an imaginary kingdom.

*additional reports on the repatriation operations can be found here and here.