Carent Barroga, 37, just arrived at her new employer in Hong Kong in November 2018 when a brain tumor was detected and required an immediate operation.
A native of Bayambang, Pangasinan, Barroga immediately sought the assistance of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. However, her hope of getting help from the government agency was suddenly shattered when she discovered that her OWWA membership already expired. This meant that she was no longer eligible for medical assistance customarily granted to a bona fide member.
One of the most common gripes overseas Filipino workers lament against OWWA is that it does not provide enough assistance to OFWs distressed from abuse of employers or getting caught in internal conflicts or economic downturn.
And who can blame them? Overseas Workers Welfare Administration sounds like a government agency tasked into looking after the well-being of Filipino workers abroad. But to confirm this task, we might need to ask a high-ranking official for confirmation since its website does not describe the nature of the agency’s mandate (it didn’t even show the organizational chart when we checked it). https://owwa.gov.ph/index.php/about-owwa/organizational-chart
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that OWWA’s responsibilities cover a broad spectrum of tasks such as repatriating OFWs distressed by war, granting of cash assistance to those killed while on duty or offer scholarship grant to their children. For an agency to support millions of Filipino workers in case of death or accident, repatriation and medical assistance, and livelihood and scholarship programs, each of which costs thousands of pesos, OWWA can barely sustain its operations.
Its budget is mainly coming from the government allotment, and the $25 (P1,268) membership fee suitable for two years is not enough for the agency to carry out all its duties as described above even if it wanted to.
After Barroga’s surgery, she was forced to return home after her employment was terminated. She said her agency failed to remind her of the membership renewal.
Until three years ago, every OFW employment contract renewal filed at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office comes with a mandatory renewal of OWWA membership. Afterward, the procedure changed, making the obligatory renewal into optional. As a result, many OFWs forgot or decided against renewing their OWWA membership.
Since Barroga is no longer a member of OWWA, she can only get limited assistance, such as the Balik Pinas! Balik Hanapbuhay Program which entitles her to receive P20,000 as a returning OFW due to employment termination.
You create peace of mind as a member
Life abroad can be uncertain, and many things can happen. Based on news reports, it is not unusual to read OFWs who figured in accidents, diagnosed with severe ailments, or lose their jobs. As a legitimate OWWA member, you can count that during times of distress and unforeseen circumstances, you are covered by benefits promised by OWWA.
You create peace of mind for families
In case an OFW passes away from a sudden illness, assault, or accident, it will be a significant loss for the bereaved family. Not only will they deal with the loss of a family member who spent most of the time away from them, but also the financial burden they’ll have to carry. As an OWWA member, you’ll be covered with death and burial benefits, plus eligible OFW children will also receive educational assistance.
You contribute to help fellow OFWs
Being an OWWA member assures you with assistance in times of need. But you’ll probably be happier if you end up not applying for aid because that means you are safe and healthy at work and getting along well with life. Yet your child will be eligible to avail of a scholarship grant. Even if you don’t avail of any benefits at all, you could get a rebate. But what’s more important than with your contribution as a member, you help OWWA fulfill its mission to offer assistance to OFWs who need help more.