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OFW groups assail slash in DFA budget

First Posted 06:25:00 09/10/2010

MANILA, Philippines?Overseas Filipino groups Thursday assailed the decision of the government to slash the P100-million Assistance to Nationals fund allocated annually to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a nongovernment organization
actively involved in migration issues, urged President Benigno Aquino III to reconsider the move to implement a deep cut in the ATN fund, which is earmarked for assisting distressed overseas workers.

The center?s president, former Labor undersecretary Susan Ople, described the cut as ?untimely and unjustifiable,? considering the increasing number of victims of human trafficking and in the light of a new law that mandated the DFA to certify whether labor-receiving countries were suitable places of destination for overseas Filipino workers.

Dark future for OFWs

The overseas Filipino workers groups Migrante-Middle East described the cut as ?anti-OFWs? while the United Filipinos (Unifil) in Hong Kong said the reduced fund boded a ?dark future? for OFWs.

?It seems senseless for President Aquino to reduce to less than half of the original amount the P100-million legal assistance fund, considering that OFWs have been hugely contributing to the local economy through their billions of dollars in remittances, which are equal to 10 percent of the country?s gross domestic product,? John Leonard Monterona, the Saudi Arabia-based regional coordinator of the Migrante-Mideast, said.

?In the name of austerity, the Aquino government is willing to leave OFWs rotting in prison, force us to drop hopes of redress for abuses we suffered and practically drag OFWs in death row to the chair. As a first concrete act of his government, this is gravely frustrating for us who have waited for months now on how President Aquino will respond to concerns of migrant Filipinos,? Unifil chair Dolores Balladares said.

The three groups said the ATN fund should instead be increased as the number of OFWs in death row, runaways and the distressed grew.

P100M mandated by law

They reminded the Aquino administration that Republic Act No. 8042, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, required a P100-million revolving legal assistance fund for distressed workers.

Ople said that a new law, RA 10022, which amended RA 8042, even mandated the DFA to use its legal assistance fund to file charges against foreign employers and agencies abroad in behalf of aggrieved Filipino workers.

?The new law assigns additional duties to the DFA which warrants more funds for its implementation. The DFA must also step up its campaign against human trafficking because the Philippines is already in the Tier 2 Watch List and is at risk of falling to the Tier 3 ranking next year,? Ople said.

Section 25 of the RA 8042 established the P100-million legal assistance fund, which will come from P50 million from the President?s contingency fund, P30 million from the Presidential Social Fund and P20 million from the OFW fund handled by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The OWWA attends to the needs of OFWs in trouble but its priority is to its members, who have contributed $25 to the trust fund managed by the agency.

Ople noted that more than 3,000 Filipinos continued to languish in jail while thousands more were awaiting repatriation after suffering abuse and maltreatment from the hands of their employers.

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