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Filipino expats wearing masks in Deira, Dubai . Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Dubai on Tuesday suspended the application process for the US$200 (Dh730) cash aid to Filipinos whose jobs were affected by coronavirus.

“The public is hereby informed that pursuant to the directive of the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Labour Office Dubai and Northern Emirates will temporarily suspend acceptance of applications for the DOLE one-time financial assistance for displaced OFWs due to COVID-19,” read a statement sent to Gulf News.

“The link for the submission of applications will no longer accept responses effective 12:01AM, 21 April 2020. We appeal for your full understanding,” added the memorandum.

According to POLO-Dubai the suspension was made “pending evaluation of applications received and subject to availability of funds.”

The DOLE-AKAP (Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong) for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was announced by Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III on March 25 as a one-time financial assistance by the Philippine government to be given to displaced OFWs – both sea-based and land-based – around the world, due to COVID-19.

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Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III Image Credit: Supplied

Also eligible are OFWs infected by the virus, provided that they have not received any form of financial assistance from their host government or employer.

The cash assistance for OFWs who lost their jobs was earmarked from DOLE-CAMP or DOLE COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program fund amounting to PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million).

Over 25,000 applicants in Dubai

Philippine Labour Attaché Felicitas Bay told Gulf News: “As of 12.01 am, April 21, the total applications we received have reached 25,733. These are all subject to evaluation - whether the request will be approved or denied. We have so far evaluated 4,732 applications.”

The first batch of recipients will receive the assistance on Tuesday.

“Around 250 Filipinos will receive the Dh730 cash assistance through a remittance centre today,” Bay said.

Many Filipinos in Dubai, who are still employed but whose income has been adversely affected by COVID-19, meanwhile felt they had been left in the lurch.

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Advisory from the Philippine Overseas Labour Office Dubai and Northern Emirates Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai resident Edwin Costales told Gulf News: “What will happen to us who have been placed unde a ‘no-work, no pay’ scheme? Are we not going to receive any assitance from our government? I hope they have also considered us.”

Filipino expat Huey Rai Sta Ana, 26, a waiter at a Dubai restaurant, earlier told Gulf News: “Our employer told us to go on unpaid leave but we still have bills to pay. Losing a month’s salary will have a big impact on our wallets – we have not enough savings to pay for our rent and utility bills. Whatever assistance we can get from our government would really be a big help.”

False hope

Gabriela-UAE, a group of Filipino expats in the UAE advocating for workers and women’s rights has condemned DOLE for suspending the applications for financial assistance it promised to OFWs.

In a statement sent to Gulf News on Tuesday, the group said: “DOLE and the Philippine government gave many OFWs hope when they promised the financial assistance. By suspending the acceptance of applications for assistance, they have crushed our hope.”

“The excuse given by the DOLE for the suspension, that the submitted applications and the existing funds will be evaluated, is simply unacceptable. OFWs are running low on food and basic necessities, and the financial assistance is urgently needed now,” the group added.

“In the UAE alone, there is an estimated 650,000 OFWs, most of them are employees who were laid off from work, whose wages have been delayed, whose wages have been cut by 25 to 50 per cent; and who have been put under “no work, no pay” arrangements. With a budget of PhP1.5 billion, it turns out that only 150,000 OFWs or less around the world would be able to avail of the financial assistance,” the group noted.

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A Filipino expat shares a picture of the the Dh730 cash aid she received on social media Image Credit: Supplied

“Do top (Philippine) government officials think that OFWs are virus-proof and immune from COVID-19? We reiterate our appeal to the Duterte government for immediate, sufficient and systematic distribution of financial assistance to OFWs,” they added.

Not enough budget

Filipino community leader Jason Roi Bucton, chairman of Kalayaan 2020 Organizing Committee, said: “We have to understand that all budget allocated is for the entire OFW around the globe. The overwhelming numbers of more than 25,000 applicants (in Dubai and Northern Emirates alone) is subject to POLO-OWWA’s evaluation and approval with their limited staffs and funds.”

“We have to accept the fact that this is not enough to cater the number of Filipinos displaced in this pandemic. We hope that our Philippine government will be able to assess further and find means to sustain the Filipinos’ needs. Otherwise, it should be better to just prepare for a massive repatriation globally,” he added.

Bayanihan during hard times
Another OFW advocate, Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, told Gulf News: “Since President Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act last March 24, much has been publicized on the provision of emergency subsidy to OFWs. In the UAE, the allocated fund for OFW, unfortunately, is just not enough to solve the problems of everyone in need.”

“The solution is clearly written in the name of the law itself: Bayanihan, a Filipino virtue of collective heroism for a common cause. The government has kick-started amelioration efforts, and it is now high time for fellow OFWs to help each other,” he explained.

Almazar noted: “We have no control over the funds but we can very much rely on each other. We should not forget that Filipinos are creative, resourceful and ingenious. We may lack funds but certainly we do not have a shortage of talented Filipino professionals in the emirates.

“There should be a close coordination with volunteer groups. For example, those who do not qualify for the financial assistance from the government should be endorsed to Filipino volunteer groups instead of being refused outright. With this, we eliminate duplication of efforts and ensure scarce resources are allocated efficiently especially for the sick, children and other vulnerable groups,” he added.

Almazar reiterated: “We can improve, because we are more than this (COVID-19). What the government cannot provide, we OFWs ca fill up by volunteering our services, by being vigilant that no resource is wasted. It is crucial to evaluate needs, assess available resources and set priorities to protect the lives of our people, while maintaining their dignity, mental and social well-being.”

“We also want to see the preparedness and advanced capabilities of government staff assigned to assist the OFWs. Planning and managing the response is as important, if not, more important than the funds,” he concluded.

In numbers
PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million) - allocated to overseas Filipino workers displaced by COVID-19 worldwide
US$200 (Dh730) - financial assistance promised to Filipino workers who lost job due to coronavirus pandemic
25,733 - Filipinos in Dubai appplied for cash aid
250 Filipinos to receive the Dh730 from POLO-Dubai on Tuesday