Solons seek additional P9-B budget for OFW agencies

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2011

Lawmakers yesterday filed a bill seeking a P9 billion supplemental budget to augment the government’s depleting funds for the evacuation and repatriation of Filipino workers in disaster-stricken Japan and in strife-torn countries in the North African and Middle Eastern regions.

Reps. Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna; Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis; Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela; Raymond Palatino of Kabataan; and Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers filed House Bill 4406 of which P5.5 billion will be allocated to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as the lead agency in providing government services to Filipinos abroad.

“Our foreign policy will be a complete failure if government cannot allocate funds for the safety and bailout of Filipinos caught in dire situations abroad,” the solons stated in their bill.

The lawmakers noted that the P11 billion budget of the DFA for 2011 is a far cry from its original proposal of P19 billion while a huge portion of the national budget was poured in to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Conditional Cash Transfer Program (CCT) which is critics call a “dole-out” for the poorest of the poor.

The militant solons scored the Aquino administration for reducing by almost half the budget for assistance to Filipinos overseas from P200 million to P109.3 million, which includes the budget for repatriation and legal assistance for the estimated 10 million nationals.

They noted that OFWs in the Middle East and Africa accounted for 16 percent of the total dollar remittances in 2010 ($3 billion) while those working in Japan sent home $883 million in the same year.

“This measure will correct the mistake of slashing items in the 2011 DFA budget that were devoted to servicing Filipinos toiling in various nations abroad,” the bill said.

The proposed new allocation for the DFA will cover the emergency evacuation and repatriation of our 305,972 overseas Filipinos in Japan which was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, resulting to tsunami, and now a possible major peace-time nuclear disaster.

It will also fund the assistance to overseas Filipinos in the “current and potential flashpoints” in North Africa: Libya (23,713), Tunisia (254), Algeria (4,937), Nigeria (6,256) and Egypt (5,973); (3) assistance to Filipinos in the Middle East: Bahrain (50,695), Iran (863), Iraq (6,108), Jordan (28,100), Syria (17,000), Kuwait (170,600), Qatar (200,000),  Oman (13,100), United Arab Emirates (589,461), Israel (41,000), Lebanon (37,265), Yemen (1,400) and Saudi Arabia (1,857,794) and other African and Middle Eastern countries “experiencing political strife that could possibly lead to war.”

The bill also allots P2.5 billion to Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as subsidy to local government units “for its full participation in the reintegration of overseas Filipino workers repatriated from the Middle East, African and Asian regions.”

An additional P500 million will go to the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) integrative trainings and skills upgrading programs for OFWs and for job placement programs of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for repatriated OFWs who want to find new work in other countries.

Of the additional P500 million for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), P150 million will be used to augment efforts to boost the development of micro, small and medium enterprises markets and “strengthen linkages between MSMEs and large enterprises.”

The rest of supplemental budget for the DFA worth P350 million will be used to “further enhancement and integration of entrepreneurship programs for MSME development to provide employment/livelihood opportunities for overseas Filipinos repatriated from the Middle East, African and Asian region including their families.” –Charlie V. Manalo, Daily Tribune

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