The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) fund to assist OFWs in distress will jump two-and-half times to P1 billion in 2018, while a legal fund, also managed by the DFA, will double to P200 million, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said.
Recto hailed the twin budgetary initiatives as “good news long overdue” even as he called on the government “to identify all OFW assistance funds so we will know if they are sufficient.”
The veteran legislator has been waging a campaign for the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund of the DFA to reach at least P1 billion.
Finally, ATN funding will reach the amount the seasoned lawmaker has been advocating, based on the proposed 2018 national budget.
“That would be a 150 percent increase, from this year’s P400 million. It is a big jump. The challenge now is how to increase it yearly. It should not be static again. Yung P1 billion, kulang pa rin,” the senator from Batangas said.
The P1 billion ATN fund is lodged in the budget of the DFA. The latter has a proposed P19.5 billion budget for next year.
Also marked for increase is the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) of the DFA. From P100 million this year, it will double to P200 million in 2018.
So overall, the OFW assistance fund under the DFA will increase from P500 million to P1.2 billion, he said. “But these are just the funds clearly earmarked and are on top of the regular services the DFA is extending to Filipino nationals.”
Recto said the ATN fund is an important lifeline for Filipinos in trouble in foreign lands. From July to December 2015, 3,253 Filipinos benefitted from the ATN fund, “and more would have been if there were more funds,” the legislator said.
But to clearly identify all sources of funds for OFW assistance, the lawmaker is calling for a “singular budget tally” of appropriations and off-budget money intended to aid Filipinos overseas.
“Sa ngayon kasi dispersed ang mga ‘yan. Mayroon sa DFA, mayroon sa DOLE, mayroon sa OWWA, pati nga sa DSWD, doon sa reception and processing of repatriated Filipinos, like from Malaysia, ay mayroon ding pondo,” the senator said.
“Yung sa DOLE, mayroong pera for repatriation services under the Office of Secretary. But there are also other facilities in agencies under him, like OWWA and TESDA, the latter providing retraining to ease the reintegration of Filipinos who have returned home for good,” Recto said.
“For counting purposes, ilagay natin ito under one ledger, para malaman natin kung sapat o hindi,” he said.
In his campaign for a bigger ATN fund, Recto has always compared its size to OFW remittances, and would invoke the large gap in batting for an increase in funding.
He said the ATN fund and LAF of P500 million this year was “a microscopic one-third of one percent of OFW contribution to the economy.”
The P500 million is what OFWs send back home in “three hours and 23 minutes, based on 2015 remittances.”
“‘Yang P500 million, ‘yan ang remittance ng mga kababayan natin sa Hong Kong sa loob lamang ng apat na araw at limang oras. P500 million is also what OFWs in Italy remit to their homeland in just 12 days,” Recto said.
“Half a billion pesos is our katas mula sa Saudi in less than 34 hours,” he pointed out.