Government has done a very commendable job since March last year in repatriating hundreds of thousands of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rendered jobless and stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic.
Official figures show that as of mid-December, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte — through agencies like the Foreign Affairs and Labor departments — has brought home a total of 300,838 despairing OFWs.
Of the total, 210,217 or 69.88 percent came from the land-based sector, while 90,621 or 30.12 percent were seafarers, including many who endured extended duties past the 11 months maximum set by the International Labor Organization.
To underwrite its biggest repatriation effort in history, a gargantuan operation that eclipsed even the total number of repatriates during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the government was forced to reallocate and realign funds.
In fact, officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) last October told a Senate budget hearing that of the P1 billion it originally allotted for OFW repatriation, only P20 million remained.
DFA sought then P820 million more under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or as a special allotment release to be able to continue the government’s repatriation mission. There was at the time a sense of impending doom that the operation could stop anytime due to lack of funds.
Wait a minute, though.
The government should not be spending billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money in bringing home OFW! Yes, not even a single centavo, not because it can choose to turn its back on tax-exempt OFW.
It’s because the cost of repatriation had already been paid for by the OFW themselves when they were strong-armed by that powerful insurance lobby to pay the Agency-Hired Compulsory Insurance (AHCI).
That AHCI has been a burden to the OFW sector for years now, but the insurers have gotten their way in forcing its implementation under the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Workers Act (MWOFA) of 1995.
Now, after laughing all the way to the bank with the premiums collected, these insurers are now deafeningly silent on their obligations to repatriate distressed OFW.
And what are the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) doing to force these insurers to cough up repatriation money?
Under the MWOFA, recruiters, placement, and manning agencies are tasked to facilitate on behalf of the OFW their collection of benefits under a standard insurance contract.
So, if the recruiters are not doing their jobs to provide OFW their benefits, possibly for being in cahoots with the insurers, why are we not hearing any sanctions being meted out by the POEA and OWWA?
It’s just not right for the right hand (DFA) to be practically asking for alms for repatriation funds when the left hand can reach deep into a pocket and get money from insurers.
It boggles the mind how much money insurers have collected from OFW who cannot fly out to their jobs abroad unless insured.
But since the Insurance Commission (IC) has refused to peg a flat rate on the insurance premiums, purportedly to encourage cutthroat competition among insurers, one can only hazard a guess.
Say insurance costs P5,000 — a sum we plucked from the air because the IC neither put a costing floor nor ceiling — multiple that by the 2.2 million OFW and you get P11 billion.
Oh boy, some people have really been laughing all the way to the bank with billions in OFW premiums that certainly dwarf the nearly P2 billion DFA said it needed to complete the repatriation.
Or has the aggressive competition touted by the IC resulted in severe premium price undercutting by fly-by-night insurers that have no intention of paying up the promised benefits? Mind you, repatriation is not the only benefit of the OFW under the MWOFA and AHCI.
Collectibles from these insurers include $10,000 in natural death benefit for those OFW who died abroad, including from Covid-19; while for those displaced by the virus, a monetary claims benefit representing salary for three months every year of the employment contract, not exceeding $1,800 for every month.
There’s also the subsistence allowance in the amount of $100 times the six months intended to allow displaced OFW to have food on the table while looking for other jobs or sources of livelihood.
In a nutshell, insurers cannot claim that they intend to reimburse government funds being used to bring home and provide assistance to distressed OFW. The pandemic has been raging for months now and these insurers have all the time in the world to cough up the money.
Otherwise, AHCI is no different from the useless Compulsory Third Party Liability (CTPL) insurance coverage forced on every motorist registering a vehicle at the Land Registration Office.
The AHCI and CTPL, they’re practically the same dog biting at their poor captive victims, the OFW and motoring sectors, respectively.
What say you, IC, OWWA and POEA?