Repatriation funds run low as Filipino workers remain stranded abroad

Since March 22 the Philippine government has repatriated more than 56,000 of its nationals, most of whom were left jobless abroad due to the global health emergency. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Repatriation funds run low as Filipino workers remain stranded abroad

  • Up to 167,000 still stuck in host countries

MANILA: Funds for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may run out by the end of August, officials said on Friday.

Since March 22 the Philippine government has repatriated more than 56,000 of its nationals, most of whom were left jobless abroad due to the global health emergency, and nearly 38,000 more are expected to return in the coming weeks.

Official records show that up to 167,000 Filipino workers are currently stranded in their host countries, with 88,000 of them in Saudi Arabia alone.

While the government says it wants to bring home as many of its nationals as soon as possible, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola expressed concerns that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ PHP1 billion ($20 million) assistance fund for workers may be depleted by the end of August.  

She said that approximately 66 percent of the budget had already been spent, with only PHP344 million left.

“Our utilization rate is very high,” she told a hearing at the House committee on public accounts. “A chartered flight costs PHP12 million to PHP13 million per flight, and that is only good for 350 passengers.”

But money is not the only issue in the repatriation process, according to the country's labor secretary. 

“In repatriating our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), we also have to consider the lockdowns imposed by countries where they are working,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement on Saturday, adding that more funds would not bring nationals home in the absence of other equally important factors.

The “lock-ins” and “lock-outs” in infected countries were still a major obstacle, he said, even if the Philippines opened its doors amid its own COVID-19 restrictions. He also pointed out that there were legal impediments tied to the exit visas, loans and cases of Filipino workers wanting to go home.

“It really gets frustrating when foreign employers refuse to give the exit visas of our OFWs to stop them from returning to the Philippines. There are many employers like that abroad. Repatriation of OFWs also becomes difficult to achieve when they still have loans to settle and complaints to face.”

When asked during Friday’s hearing if bigger funds could boost the government's efforts to bring home more migrant workers, Bello said no but that it could save many of them from misery.

On Wednesday, Senator Franklin Drilon insisted during a Senate hearing that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) should use its existing PHP18.8 billion fund to bring home all stranded workers and give them financial and livelihood assistance.

The fund is principally sourced from overseas workers’ membership contributions that could and should be utilized to help migrant workers affected by the pandemic by providing them with adequate assistance, said Drilon, who is a former OWWA chief.


US to pay over $1 bn for 100 mln doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 05 August 2020

US to pay over $1 bn for 100 mln doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

  • The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J
  • This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country

WASHINGTON: The United States government will pay Johnson & Johnson over $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, its latest such arrangement as the race to tame the pandemic intensifies, the drugmaker said on Wednesday.
It said it would deliver the vaccine to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a not-for-profit basis to be used after approval or emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
J&J has already received $1 billion in funding from the US government — BARDA agreed in March to provide that money for the company to build manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of the experimental vaccine.
The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J. Including the first $1 billion deal with the USgovernment, the price would be slightly higher than the $19.50 per dose that the United States is paying for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and German biotech BioNTech SE.
The US government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement. J&J did not disclose that deal’s value.
J&J plans to study a one- or two-dose regimen of the vaccine in parallel later this year. A single-shot regimen could allow more people to be vaccinated with the same number of doses and would sidestep issues around getting people to come back for their second dose.
This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country. Talks are underway with the European Union, but no deal has yet been reached.
J&J’s investigational vaccine is currently being tested on healthy volunteers in the United States and Belgium in an early-stage study.
There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19. More than 20 are in clinical trials.