DOLE rolls out P10,000 cash assistance to displaced OFWs due to COVID-19 crisis

Marje Pelayo   •   April 8, 2020   •   1990

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will release a one-time financial assistance of P10,000 to each overseas Filipino worker (OFW) whose employment has been affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

On Wednesday (April 8), Secretary Silvestre Bello III announced it has already prepared the guidelines of the DOLE-AKAP (Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong) assistance program for OFWs to ensure its effective and streamlined implementation.

The program will cover regular or documented OFWs as defined in the 2016 Revised Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Rules and Regulations.

“Regular or documented OFWs are those who possess a valid passport and appropriate visa or permit to stay and work in the receiving country; and whose contract of employment has been processed by the POEA or the POLO,” Bello said.

Also covered by the assistance program are:

  • Qualified undocumented OFWs or those who were originally regular or documented workers but for some reason or cause have lost their status are also covered;
  • OFWs are not registered with the POEA or whose contracts were not processed by POEA or the POLO, but have undertaken actions to regularize their contracts or status, and are active OWWA members at the time of availment;
  • Balik-Manggagawa who are unable to return to host country in view of host country lockdown;
  • OFWs who have experienced job displacement due to the receiving country’s lockdown or community quarantine or having been infected by COVID-19.

“They must be still at overseas job sites, or in the Philippines as Balik-Manggagawa, or already repatriated to the Philippines; and must not receive any financial support or assistance from the receiving countries or employers,” Bello clarified.

Misery in America as coronavirus death toll exceeds 100,000

UNTV News   •   May 28, 2020

The United States reached a grim milestone on Wednesday (May 27) as the coronavirus death toll exceeded 100,000 people, amid the ongoing global scramble to contain the virus and find a vaccine.

Currently, the death toll for coronavirus cases across the United States stands at 100,008 people, according to a Reuters tally.

The loss has largely hit urban areas, especially New York, with elderly people and minorities disproportionately affected.

On the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses and doctors are caring for the living. But there is another front line of those caring for the dead.

Funeral homes in New York are chaotic and overwhelmed. It can be weeks before bodies are embalmed or buried.

Most COVID-19 victims die alone, and when they die, their families are told to quarantine. The women try to find ways for them to say goodbye.

“I don’t want to apologize because I am doing the absolute best I can, but if it’s not good enough, I am sorry. Like, deeply sorry,” says 25-year-old resident funeral director of the International Funeral & Cremation Services Funeral Home Lily Sage.

In early May U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences from the Rose Garden in the White House. “We mourn for every life the virus has claimed,” he said. “And we share the grief of all of you who have lost a loved one.”

For medical workers that grief can be overwhelming.

The shifts are long and the scenes are heartbreaking inside a Maryland hospital where nurses and doctors have been treating coronavirus patients for weeks, unable to let family inside to visit loved ones on their death beds.

One of the hardest moments of a recent work day for Biocontainment Nurse Tiffany Fare was, “having to see a family member of a COVID patient, say goodbye over an iPad rooms away.”

At an event in Pennsylvania in mid-May Trump hailed the work of medical workers. “They are warriors…they are running into death, just like soldiers run into bullets,” he said. “It is incredible to see, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Dr. Erick Eiting, Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s emergency department medical director in New York, has been at the center of the storm aiding patients, whose ages range from people in their 20s to their 80s, as they discover new symptoms and evolving treatments. He said the hospital’s visitor policy was recently changed so that novel coronavirus patients nearing the end of their lives don’t have to die alone.

“That’s one of the most tragic pieces of this disease, is because it’s so contagious, that people do end up just dying alone,” he said on one overnight shift.

As bodies pour out of hospitals, 28-year-old Alix Monteleone, has a seat at the front line from the window of her third-floor Brooklyn apartment. “We see it and we’re like, this is very serious,” she told Reuters.

Refrigerated trucks have fanned out across the city to process the pile up of corpses. Their stops include the parking lot right below her window to serve the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

“This is very real. And we’re seeing so much chaos manifest outside of our home that we can’t imagine how bad it is inside. You know, we stopped counting how many bodies came out,” Monteleone said.

It was at this time in April that Trump once again offered his assurances. “We’re going to have a rough week. We’re going to have maybe a rough a little more than a week. But there’s tremendous light at the end of that tunnel.”

Early data from U.S. states show African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting long-standing disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.

Not all states have released demographic data showing the virus’ toll on different racial groups.

In Louisiana more than half of the deaths have been African American, a far larger percentage than the state’s population of African Americans.

Gary Harrell knew 10 of them. “It’s just hard, You wake up one in the morning and – like yesterday – and you kind of worry about what news you’re going to get. The first thing was a message from a friend who is asking that I assist her with her father’s obituary. He had passed on Sunday,” he recalled. “And then within a few hours, I got another text message as I’m driving. And that text informs me that my aunt had passed away. And, you know, it’s just it just all becomes very surreal.”

In New York, city officials hired contract laborers to bury the dead in its potter’s field on Hart Island as the city’s daily death rate from the coronavirus epidemic reached grim new records.

The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.

Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which sits off the east shore of the city’s Bronx borough and is accessible only by boat.

Now, about 24 bodies are being buried daily, five days a week, according to Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.

Many of those who have died have been elderly, with nursing homes accounting for a large portion of the deaths in the United States.

Even before the coronavirus had swept through her Seattle-area nursing home, Susan Hailey was already eager to leave.

The 74-year-old had come to the facility for rehabilitative care following knee-replacement surgery, and was due to leave in March before a bad fall left her with a broken ankle and an extended move-out date.

Then a wave of severe respiratory illness swept through the nursing home at the end of February. The facility went into lockdown and residents were forced in quarantine. A week later, Hailey tested positive for the coronavirus. She survived. Others did not.

“I remember one morning getting up because they were going to make my bed. And they called a code blue. And my aid ran across the hall and came back and said ‘he died.’ Just very nonchalant. And I couldn’t get over the callous way that it was put,” Hailey told Reuters.

It was a very different ending for retired firefighter Gary Holmberg who was only supposed to be at the Pleasant View nursing home in Maryland for a few weeks, recovering from a fall at his assisted living center.

Pleasant View has become the site of one of Maryland’s worst outbreaks, 40 miles outside the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. At least 98 of the facility’s residents and staff tested positive and 17 people associated with the home have died, according to the Carroll County Department of Health.

The 77-year old became one of more than a dozen of the nursing home’s residents who died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I think about it every night. I think about, you know, me telling him I’m going to get him out of there, I’m going to get him out of there and not being able to do it in time,” his son Rob Holmberg, 47, told Reuters.

It’s a grief shared by people who rush to the scenes to help, such as Anthony Almojera, a 17-year veteran paramedic and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). In his eyes, this has been one of the most devastating times in the department’s history.

The coronavirus outbreak in New York City has pushed ambulance service to its limits, said Almojera in an interview with Reuters. The department went from an average of 4,000 calls to almost 7,000, putting a strain on EMTs and paramedics.

“I don’t know if any of us will ever be the same after this and that’s something we’re going to have to manage,” he told Reuters.

For registered nurse Julia Trainer the pandemic has given her an important life lesson, “Tell everyone that you love them because you never know when you won’t be able to tell them again.”

That’s a lesson not lost on 18-year-old Minnoli Aya.

The last text message she received from her mother, a physicians assistant in New York was “Home soon,” “Love you.”

“I kept texting her wanting to believe it wasn’t true,” Minnoli told Reuters.

Each night in New York City, neighborhoods around hospitals cheer for healthcare workers to express gratitude for the risks they are taking to save lives. Minnoli watches videos of the applause on social media.

“I can’t help but think, what about the ones who have fallen? What about the ones who are already dead?” Minnoli said.

It took the United States 38 days after recording its first fatality on Feb. 29 to reach 10,000 deaths on April 6 but only five more days to reach 20,000 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lead the state with the highest death toll in the United States.

“It is a tough time, but a lot of people have shown a lot of courage and a lot of beauty and they’ve had very tough lives — and let’s appreciate them,” he added.

Every night in New York City, people lean out their windows and flood balconies, applauding essential workers.

In mid-April Brian Stokes Mitchell added star power to the evening salute, belting out ‘The Impossible Dream” from his balcony as part of an ongoing tribute to the responders to the coronavirus in the hardest-hit American city. (Reuters)

(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)

DILG warns of charges vs LGUs that reject entry of returning OFWs

Marje Pelayo   •   May 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has warned local government units (LGU) of facing charges for rejecting overseas Filipinos returning to their localities after serving their quarantine period for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Año stressed that non-acceptance of OFWs who wish to return to their hometowns would mean violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and would incur serious consequences.

“Hindi pwede na sasabihin ninyo na: ‘Zero COVID kami kaya hindi kami tatanggap ng OFW.’ Hindi pwede iyan, (You can’t say: “We’re zero COVID so we will not accept OFWs.” That’s not acceptable),” Año said.

“I myself will make sure na hahabulin ko kayo (to go after you),” he warned.

Secretary Año emphasized the importance of proper coordination between the LGU and the national government in ferrying OFWs to their respective hometowns.

With proper communication, the LGU will be able to plan ahead for the arrivals of the OFWs and provide them the much-needed assistance.

“Ang gusto ko may tatlong araw na aabisuhan ang ating mga LGUs bago ang biyahe kasi maghahanda pa iyan ng sasakyan na magsusundo pati ang kanilang isolation facilities ay ihahanda nila at syempre dapat alam nila ang pangalan ng mga uuwi,” Año explained.

(What I want is to inform LGUs three days ahead of the scheduled trip because they need to prepare transportation and they need to set up their isolation facilities. Also, they need to know the names of those arriving.)

Criticisms have been mounting with regard to the government’s handling of OFWs in quarantine facilities as they have been delayed for so long in addition to the hassle of getting their COVID-19 clearance to finally go home. 

One complaint came from Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez who vented his ire on Facebook after a number of OFWs were sent to his locality without proper coordination. MNP (with details from Joan Nano)

No company is filing for bankruptcy just yet in PH — DOLE

Marje Pelayo   •   May 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A number of companies across the globe have filed for bankruptcy as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Fortunately in the Philippines, no company has filed for bankruptcy even after more than two months of community quarantine, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, although several companies have signified opting for temporary closure. 

Under such circumstances, employees are still secured of their employment status. 

Filing for bankruptcy is one remedy for companies that are unable to pay their debts.

In the United States, car-rental company Hertz filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, a legal proceeding that allows a company to reorganize and buy more time to pay its debts. 

“This chapter of the Bankruptcy Code generally provides for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. A chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in Chapter 11,” the US Bankruptcy Code specifies.

Reuters reported that Hertz Global Holdings now has nearly $19 billion of debt.

It has roughly 38,000 employees worldwide and more than 700,000 cars that are left idle because of the pandemic. 

In the past four years, the company has lost millions of dollars in revenue specifically US$58-M in 2019. 

The NBC News reported, meanwhile, that the company so far has shed a total of 16,000 employees. 

Hertz has been in operation since 1918 and this is the first time that the company has filed for bankruptcy after more than a century.

As for Hertz Philippines, its operation remains ‘business as usual’ since it is of a different franchise. 

Secretary Bello explained that a company that is filing for bankruptcy must justify its decision and ensure that its employees will get a reasonable separation or retrenchment pay depending on the length of service.

“May retrenchment pay na (There is retrenchment pay that is equivalent to) 1/2 month for every year of service. Iyong (As for the) separation pay, one month for every year of service,” Secretary Bello said. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

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