By Marie Tonette Marticio

TACLOBAN City – In a bid to address the need to provide livelihood opportunities for returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Balik Probinsya Program beneficiaries who lost their livelihood due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFiDA), National Irrigation Authority (NIA), Department of Agriculture (DA), together with An Waray Partylist will craft Eastern Visayas’ Comprehensive Agricultural Plan.

BFAR-8 regional director Juan Albaladejo shared that the 3-year plan includes a stimulus package for the returnees comprised of integrated agri-enterprise development and livelihood interventions to help them have a fresh start in their respective hometowns.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, a total of 1,600 repatriated OFWs have already arrived in the region since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

For the fisheries, he added that BFAR 8 will be proposing intensive tilapia culture production technologies, additional milkfish satellite hatcheries, strengthened Public-Private Partnerships, construction of larger boats for transportation of municipal fishing boats in deeper waters, one-stop-shop post-harvest facilities, climate-resilient technologies for Mariculture Park development and more.

“We can develop a mariculture zone wherein the government can provide for the capital and cages which will be provided to our OFWs. We can also train our LSIs and BPP beneficiaries for labor,” he shared citing that most of them are residents of agriculture and fisheries driven municipalities and cities.

The comprehensive plan also aims to address the region’s double-digit unemployment rate of 14.3 percent or 10.3 percentage points higher than the 4.0 percent rate recorded in April last year based on the preliminary estimates released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA-8) from the April 2020 Labor Force Survey round.

The region ranked fifth among 17 regions with a low unemployment rate in the country.

It was learned that about 251 thousand individuals in Eastern Visayas labor force were left unemployed in April 2020 due to the worldwide crises.

Albaladejo added that they initially have P634 million presented to the Regional Development Council under the expansion and development fund that can be allocated for the program.

He also expressed optimism that with the help of Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel of An Waray Partylist, the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee of Agriculture and Food, the plan may be tackled during the President’s State of the Nation Address during the opening of the joint session of the congress.