Philippine embassies in conflict-threatened countries should be given a “quick reaction fund” that would allow them to bring Filipinos out of harm’s way once a crisis becomes full-blown, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said.
Recto said “contingencies must be arranged not after, but before an emergency.”
“There should be provisions for safe havens and secure escape routes,” the veteran legislator said. “Our foreign posts must be given the capacity to make the arrangements. Hindi lang hanggang plano at advisories.”
The seasoned lawmaker called for the creation of a “contingency fund” within the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which can be tapped by embassies where the threat of war or violence is high.
“The operating budget of these embassies and consulates must be augmented. When there is a crisis to prepare for, their resources must be increased,” the senator from Batangas said.
He cited the case of the proposed budget of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean capital located 35 miles from its border with North Korea, which had ratcheted up tensions in the region with its series of provocative launches of nuclear-capable trans-Pacific missiles.
For 2018, the Seoul embassy has a proposed budget of P109 million, or about $2 million for one whole year in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
“Peace time pa lang, kulang na ito dahil sa dami ng mga Pilipino doon. Ano pa kaya kung may krisis na?” the legislator lamented.
The lawmaker said an increased budget for the Seoul embassy is justified by the fact that Filipino workers in South Korea currently send about P1 billion a month to the Philippines.
“In 2016, they remitted back home P10.5 billion. In 2015, P10 billion, and close to P8 in 2014. That’s P28 billion in three years,” the senator said.
“So sa bawat P100 na padala nila, ang sukli ng pamahalaan sa pamamagitan ng consular services and aid ay P1 lamang,” he said.
By latest count, there are 57,082 documented and about 11,828 undocumented Filipinos in South Korea, Recto said.
The legislator said Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data showed that there was even money remitted from North Korea in 2016, in the amount of P96,915.
In calling for a quick reaction fund for Philippine diplomatic offices in danger or endangered areas, the lawmaker said the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund of P400 million for 2017 “which is for all posts worldwide, is not enough.”
On top of the P400 million ATN is a P100 million Legal Assistance Fund to OFWs in trouble with the law in their host countries.
The combined P500 million fund, the senator said, “is mere 4 hours worth of all OFW remittances” in 2015, using as basis the $28.48 billion overseas Filipinos sent home two years ago.
“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,” he said. “Half a billion pesos is our katas ng Saudi in less than 34 hours.”