WATCH: OFWs from Dubai come home to start anew

MANILA: Almost a year ago, Rhina was carrying a mixed bag of emotions at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 as she took chances of working as a waitress in Dubai. Brimming with high hopes to be able to sustain her son’s education through college, she endured the bitter pill of leaving her family.

Cut to the crippling impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Rhina now walked in the same terminal, pulling her world packed in two baggage after she was laid off last April 2020, eight months since she flew to the emirate.

Rhina saved up for two years from selling chicken in a public market in Malungon, Sarangani. But it did not suffice for the money that she needed for her employment documents. Without other means, she obtained a P70,000 loan last year using the land title of her parents.

However, a two-minute call from her boss shot her dreams down, and those humbling years of sacrifices to pursue that employment abroad have been easily swept away. All her dreams for her family, most especially for her son, turned quickly downhill, she narrated to The Filipino Times. She is worried how she could pay back her loan, or at least manage its mounting interest, now that she came home empty handed.

“Sa isang iglap parang gumuho talaga lahat dahil dito sa pandemic. Gabi-gabi po akong umiiyak kasi ang nagpapakain na lang sa akin yung mga kasamahan ko po sa flat. Kung wala po sila hindi ko po alam paano ako makakasurvive,” she said.

Rhina was one of the nearly two hundred overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who landed at NAIA Terminal 2 from Dubai, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 21.

Most of them were displaced from work, but they are thankful for their employers who purchased their flight tickets.

Wearing masks and walking cautiously on the circles marked to maintain social distancing at the PCR swab test booths in NAIA, these OFWs would go straight to government quarantine facilities.

Another OFW, Dina, has worked as a receptionist in a building for three years in Dubai. She promised herself that this year—supposedly the last year before her contract expires—that she would save as much money so she could finally settle for good in the Philippines.

However, when the outbreak crept into the commercial sector with many businesses temporary put on hold, her company had to let her go.

The case of Ryan was no different. His contract was also terminated when their company was forced to downsize the number of its employees.

“Sa reception ako all throughout pero teacher talaga ako dito (sa Pilipinas) before. Tapos nag front office ako sa hotel… Tapos nagkaligwakan dahil sa pandemic,” he chuckled.

Re-evaluating plans

There’s hardly a single person who hasn’t been caught off-guard by the pandemic. Many migrant Filipinos who lost their jobs or put on unpaid leaves by their companies have found themselves in penury because they hadn’t saved enough for even a few months of crisis.

For Janice Sevilla, who worked in a construction company, this period has given her a chance to re-evaluate her plans.

Her once robust company has not been immune to the economic impact of the pandemic and eventually cost her, along with several others, her job after nearly eight years.

“Ang sabi naman ‘pag nagpickup daw ‘yung economy, construction industry kasi ‘yung sa company ko, tatawagan nalang daw kami,” she said. “Medyo napaisip din ako kasi hindi na rin sustainable yung pagiging OFW lang. So parang gusto ko i-try magbusiness sa Pinas. Titingnan ko kung magwowork.”

“Parang marami na rin akong friends na nagbusiness na. Umuwi na bilang OFW. Nagbusiness na sila. Naging okay naman sila,” she added.

When asked about the type of business she would like to venture into, she said, “Ang una kong naisip ko parang e-commerce. Online. So ‘yun… mag-aaply muna ng business permit and all. Marami pang gagawin.”

Home-bound OFWs

As of July 20, over 95,000 OFWs have been sent home since the pandemic took hold. The latest batch of 1,691 home-bound OFWs traveled back to their hometowns on July 18, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Labor Secretary Bello III assured that the department will exhaust all means to help OFWs regain jobs they lost abroad.

Some 572,442 OFWs are hoping that they would receive a one-time cash aid worth $200 (P10,000) from the Philippine government to cushion them from the ill effects of the pandemic. However, not all of them are not guaranteed to receive assistance due to limited funding.

So far, DOLE’s overseas offices and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) showed that 240,583 requests for assistance under the government’s Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program have been approved, with 203,585 OFWs already receiving the emergency aid.

OWWA reported last week that the Department of Budget and Management has greenlighted the release of P1 billion additional budget for the program. However, it falls short of the P2.5 billion sought by DOLE to cover for the number of remaining applications.

200,000 displaced OFWs stay behind

Last month, DOLE said majority of over 351,000 displaced OFWs across the globe have no intention of returning home.

“Almost 200,000 of them don’t want to come home. They would rather stay there especially coming from America, Europe, Rome, Madrid, United Kingdom,” Bello said.

“In other words, they were terminated from their work, they are no longer employed or they continue to be employed but they cannot report to work because of lockdown so no work, no pay. They are still considered as displaced,” he added.

As the pandemic continuous to rage in more than 200 countries, pundits say that the Philippine government must be able to come up with a sustainable program for tens of thousands more migrant workers expected to lose their jobs overseas.

Mark Nituma

Mark is the editorial director of TFT and is currently based in its Manila headquarters. Upon graduating from UP Diliman in 2010, he joined the internationally-awarded TV magazine show Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho as a researcher. Nearly a year later, he became one of its segment producers. In a span of five years with GMA7, he was able to travel not only the Philippines’ most beautiful spots but also the country’s least visited places—from some of the war-torn areas of Mindanao to impoverished parts of Luzon and Visayas—capturing a closer look at life in these communities. Mark also worked with various TV programs and specials such as Philippine Treasure and Reel Time. After his five-year stint in the media network, he flew to Dubai in 2016 to start his career as a journalist/reporter for The Filipino Times. Got story pitches? Send Mark an email at [email protected] or drop him a line on facebook.com/mark.nituma.

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