Many overseas Filipino workers have lost their jobs, had their incomes slashed, or afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, even as they become displaced as locally stranded individuals when they return to the Philippines, their families cannot avail of the benefits other citizens the government has been extending.
Indeed, being an OFW is a double-edged sword. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing because it gives families financial relief with high-paying jobs being sought after abroad. But it’s also fraught with risks — broken families, abuse, and hazards that come with the job.
Now that the coronavirus is upon us, being associated with a family member working abroad becomes a deal-breaker; they cannot receive assistance from the government such as the Social Amelioration Program.
OFWs ask why is this so? Their families ask the same question. Local officials who sometimes act as mere distribution channels instead of decision makers offer vague answers.
“Taga distribute lang po kami.”
“Sabi nila pag OFW family daw hindi eligible.”
Indeed, being an OFW deprives their families, also citizens of the country, the chance to receive help from the government in this time of health crisis.
OFWs are also in the front lines in the battle abroad
Frontliners have become a buzzword during the time of COVID-19 with reference leaning towards medical workers, law enforcers, and aid workers. But long before coronavirus emerged, OFWs have become the Philippines’ metaphorical frontliners in the battle for economic independence and less reliance on foreign aid.
More than just symbolic front liners, Filipinos abroad are also acting as real-world frontliners. Medical professionals working at hospitals, caregivers looking after the elderly, or domestic workers taking care of families are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Many of them left their families to care for others and risked being away for so long, only to lament that the ones they left behind are unfairly treated.
Like anyone else, OFWs also have parents, children in need
OFWs also have elderly parents who need medical attention, young children who need guidance, and homes that need the daily provisions their remittance money sustained. Now, many OFWs face difficulty in even sending money back home due to lockdown orders, or worse, they simply lost their jobs and have nothing to send back to their families.
When families cannot fulfill their daily duties of even going to the market because of social distancing restrictions, OFWs can only appeal from afar that their family members will also be looked after.
It’s ironic that the government is pushing hard on the welfare of OFWs with special lanes on immigration, livelihood projects, or welcomed by airport staff singing Christmas carols as they arrive for Christmas vacation, but fail to look after those who are closest to OFW’s hearts.
OFWs might be willing to give up those privileges if it means their families will also receive that fair treatment. After all, receiving the SAP benefit is not a big ask.
Hard to cite reasons why OFW families are disqualified
OFWs ask: What is the basis for our family’s disqualification from receiving the Social Amelioration Program?
As the answers provided above may indicate, there seems no airtight reason besides the shallow answers that shows hints of envy and jealousy.
“Mayaman naman ‘yan kasi abroad ang anak nyan.”
Was it the newly repainted house? Was it the booming sari-sari store? Or was it because our kids are now enrolled in a private school? Maybe it’s the social media photos they see us OFWs and our families enjoying a hearty laugh enjoying the beach or a family vacation.
A newly repainted house is a validation that our decision to go abroad didn’t go to waste, or that intimate family gathering only happens once or twice a year. If those examples are not the reasons why our family members are not eligible to receive government aid, we don’t know what is, so please tell us.
A golden chance for the government to shine as a welfare provider
OFWs have been touted as heroes of the modern Philippines. And we’re happy to get the recognition, but we’d prefer that the government and its agencies look at what matters to us most: our families. They are the reason why we traveled far.
We’re all affected by the virus — both rich celebrities and athletes, and poor townsfolk. Wouldn’t it be great for local leaders in the community to bestow that honor to OFW through the help they’ll extend to OFW families? That would be a win-win situation and put a smile on the faces of OFWs.
OFWs have been mistreated abroad, so don’t extend it back home
Although many Filipino workers enjoyed their time abroad, there are others who are not as fortunate. They have become duped by illegal recruiters, landed on an abusive employer-employee relationship, or subject to various forms of bullying and discrimination.
Some OFWs can take the beating, knowing that this was part of the risk they’ll face when they signed up for that “work abroad” job application. But for them to see their families deprived of the benefits is heartbreaking. Why? It’s because it makes them guilty to make that decision to go abroad, and their family back in the Philippines has suffered the consequence.
As one unified nation, we’ll eventually win our battle against this dreaded pandemic. But unless we eradicate the ailment of insecurity which might kill more Filipinos than COVID-19, we’ll be perpetually blaming someone for our predicament.
The mantra “heal as one” will remain symbolic if there are sectors in the socially excluded in the healing process.