‘Scraping the barrel’: Some senators worried DFA repatriation funds not enough
MANILA, Philippines — Some senators are worried that the repatriation funds of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) could run out and would no longer be enough to continue bringing home overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) rendered jobless by the pandemic.
During the Senate hearing on the proposed P22.09-billion budget of the DFA for 2021, Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said there is only about P20 million left in the agency’s assistance to nationals (ATN) fund, which is intended for distressed overseas Filipinos.
“I’m concerned about the assistance to nationals fund,” Senator Imee Marcos said, noting that the said fund is maintained at P1 billion yearly.
“You still have three months to go, and we’re very concerned. We’re scraping the barrel. The Department of Labor [and Employment] has actually said that they are anticipating quite a few still to be repatriated,” she added.
As of October 4, the DFA has repatriated over 204,000 overseas Filipinos across the world since the start of the pandemic in February.
The agency is expecting that at least 50,000 to 60,000 Filipinos abroad would still need to be repatriated, Locsin said. But this number could go as high as 177,000.
Marcos raised concerns about the budget falling short in terms of repatriation efforts for Filipinos abroad.
“I just don’t want to be caught at the end of the year with the DFA short of repatriation budget,” the senator said, underscoring the need to “top-up” the department’s funds for repatriation.
“Given the COVID crisis I think it is important that we do so,” she added.
Senator Richard Gordon also raised concern over the remaining amount to be utilized by the DFA to be able to bring home overseas Filipinos.
Gordon said he has been receiving messages from families of overseas Filipinos in the Middle East asking for assistance.
“Is there any way we can get them out faster, many are still left in that situation, how many are there?” he asked.
Some 47,000 OFWs are still stranded in the Middle East, according to DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola.
Arriola said the DFA is awaiting an augmentation of P820 million as provided under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.
“Once we get our SARO (special allotment release order), we will resume all our flights because we’ve been chartering already a lot of flights,” she said.
“More and more people who become jobless and there are a lot of people who became undocumented because they don’t have jobs anymore,” she added.
She said the DFA has so far chartered 57 flights using the agency’s ATN fund.
“You said you still have 47,000 left and it sounds like you don’t have any more money. We should try and get the [Department of Budget Management] to release the necessary SARO so we can get them home,” Gordon said.
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