No OWWA Benefits for 9 Filipino Victims of Iraq Hotel Fire

As family members mourn the death of Filipino workers in a hotel fire in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, they may not receive the benefits from Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Melanie Dela Paz, mother of one of the victims, Cristine Dela Paz, found this out as she followed up with OWWA. She discovered that Cristine’s agency did not forward her membership to OWWA before it shut down operations, effectively making her daughter an undocumented worker. This appears to be the case for the other eight who perished in the fire.

A total of 13 Filipino workers died in the Feb. 5 Capitol Hotel fire in Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, ruled out as act of terrorism, and traced faulty wiring as cause of the fire at the hotel’s basement level.

OWWA said families will receive assistance but as undocumented workers will not be accorded the burial and death benefits worth P220,000, Educational and Livelihood Assistance Program meant for active members, according to Josephine S. Tobia, OWWA’s Advocacy and Social Marketing Division.

In light of the fate of the fallen Filipino hotel workers in Erbil, OWWA urges overseas Filipino workers to check their membership and ensure that it is updated accordingly so they are assured of benefits in case of emergency.

Emmanuel Geslani, a recruitment expert, urges the government to investigate the case of Filipinos who are currently employed in Iraq outside of oil and hotel workers.

While a crisis alert level of 4, which requires mandatory repatriation, is imposed on Iraq due to its security condition, the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, however, is not covered by this as it is relatively calm, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

According to DFA spokesman Charles Jose, there are some 1,500 Filipinos in Kurdistan mainly in hotel and restaurants, engineers, nurses and household service workers.