OWWA extends assistance to members affected by ‘Pablo’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 December) — The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Region 11 has released nearly P5.6 million—or P5,000 each—to migrant workers and their families affected by Typhoon Pablo in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley (ComVal), a ranking official said Friday.

Zenobia Caro, OWWA-11 acting regional director, said in an interview her office has distributed a total of P5.56 million to 1,112 OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) and their families, 414 of them in Davao Oriental and 698 in ComVal.

She added that there are still many OFWs who have yet to receive assistance because they are still waiting for the list from the municipalities affected by the typhoon.

The region has some 6,000 OWWA members, according to her.

With a membership fee of $25 or P1,025 ($1=P41), an OFW is entitled to benefits like disability and dismemberment, death, burial, education and training, workers’ welfare assistance, repatriation and reintegration programs.

Caro told MindaNews that an OFW or his or her family is entitled to claim P5,000 after their residency has been validated to avoid illegitimate claims.

She said they have encountered some illegitimate claimants on the assistance to Pablo, which includes few OWWA members residing in the city and non-OWWA members belonging to the Commission on Filipino Overseas whose members include migrants under fiancée/fiancé visa or exchange study programs and the like.

Caro said the OWWA has no long-term program for typhoon-hit OFWs aside from the cash assistance, noting that other government agencies has also initiated several assistance programs for the victims.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson and first nominee of Migrante partylist, said that since 2003, the Migrante International has been campaigning for the revival of a calamity fund that was abolished by the Arroyo administration.

The fund is a general financial assistance program for OFWs and their families, she said, adding that it is time OFWs push for the reestablishment of the calamity fund.

Meantime, Migrante’s member-organizations overseas have collected donations through the Sagip Migrante program, which is a joint program of Migrante sectoral party and Migrante International.

“All donations will be sent directly to Balsa-Southern Mindanao, where Migrante-Davao is a task force member,” Regalado said in a text message.

Proof of resilience

Caro cited the experience of an OFW from ComVal, Nestor Alfaras, as proof of the Filipino’s resilience. Alfaras was the regional representative to the OWWA’s Model OFW of the Year Award (MOFYA) 2012. He was nominated for the sea-based category.

Alfaras, along with his wife Maybeline, traversed the chest-high flood for hours when Pablo hit the province just to attend the awarding in Manila last December 5.

Pablo made landfall on December 4.

In a phone interview, Maybeline told MindaNews she found herself strong enough for overcoming such trial, saying, “You should be determined and have a clear mind.”

At 4 a.m. on December 4, she and Nestor abandoned their house in Barangay Mangayon in Compostela amid the strong winds and gushing floodwater hoping to seek refuge at the nearby municipal hall, she recalled.

But it took them at least 15 hours of wading through the flood before they were rescued, along with the other residents, and brought to a church at the municipal center at 8:30 p.m., Maybeline said.

She said that from Compostela, they hitchhiked twice before reaching the bus terminal at Tagum City, and arrived in Davao City at 2 a.m. on December 5. Still without sleep, they took the morning flight going to Manila.

Maybeline said after the awarding that she and Nestor went back to their house and repaired it as well as their rice mill that was also blown by the wind.

“We shared [what’s left of] our stocks of rice, corn, pigs and duck eggs to our neighbors who had been left with nothing to eat due to the devastation brought by Pablo,” she said.

Caro said to become a model OFW of the year, one must have a wholesome and good family relationship, savings and investments, have done community service, and a child/children who finished schooling. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)