DFA: ‘Overstretched’ P1-B fund for troubled Filipinos abroad ‘will run out’ by August
MANILA, Philippines — The P1-billion fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the assistance of distressed Filipinos abroad “will run out” by the end of August as the agency continues to repatriate stranded Filipinos amid the pandemic, an official told senators Wednesday.
In a hearing of the Senate labor committee, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said DFA has spent around 66 percent of its Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund as of June 23.
The remaining budget under the ATN fund amounts to around P344.4 million, according to Arriola’s presentation before the committee.
“The Assistance to Nationals Fund of P1 billion of the DFA has been overstretched already. We are afraid—since we continually charter the planes because there are a lot more people who are stranded—that our funds will run out by the end of August,” she said.
“Actually the Assistance to National Fund is not only for COVID-19. In fact, we did not foresee that there was going to be a COVID-19 [pandemic]. That’s why we have been overspending,” she added.
She said that of the utilized ATN fund, DFA has spent close to P197 million for COVID-19 assistance.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been giving repatriation assistance and all our posts have stand-by funds for provision for emergency supplies, medicines, food, and temporary accommodation to OFs (overseas Filipinos) affected by COVID-19,” she added.
Arriola said DFA has facilitated the repatriation of 54,736 overseas Filipinos from over 57 countries and 110 cruise ships.
Of the number, 30,645 are sea-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) while 24,091 are land-based.
She also noted that DFA estimates the number of stranded Filipinos abroad could be over 160,000.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have the most number of stranded Filipinos with 80,000 and 50,000, respectively, Arriola said.
“We have to bring them home in the next two to three months. As much as we want to bring them home in just one go we have the restriction from CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) and also we are given restrictions daily on how many people we could bring home,” she added.
The latest figures from DFA showed that 8,324 overseas Filipinos have so far been infected with the new coronavirus.
Some 2,759 remain under treatment while 5,057 managed to recover from the disease. Meanwhile, DFA has reported that 508 Filipinos abroad have already died due to COVID-19.
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