By Hannah Torregoza
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto today warned that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) P1.2-billion assistance fund for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may be insufficient to expatriate Filipinos in distress following President Rodrigo Duterte’s newest policy protecting Filipino migrant workers abroad.
Recto said that if the President’s marching order is to help each and every OFW in need, then the P1-billion Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund and the P200-million legal assistance lodged at the DFA’s budget this year would be inadequate.
“As the DFA throws more lifelines to OFWs in distress, we should also provide additional financial resources to the agency,” Recto said.
Recto pointed out other budget augmentation sources are funds under presidential disposal, including the Contingent Fund, designed to respond to unexpected events, and the state gaming revenue shares pooled under Presidential Social Fund (PSF).
He said the Contingent Fund has a budget of P13 billion for 2018, while the chief executive’s social fund, largely from PAGCOR, is at least P5 billion yearly.
He said the charity fund of the PCSO, an agency under the Office of the President and mostly spent for medical assistance, can also be used to help sick OFWs.
“Nothing in the law prohibits its ‘cross-border’ disbursement for as long as the beneficiaries are Filipino citizens. The long arm of compassion must reach those in distant shores,” Recto said.
But the senator said finding other sources to augment the budget must be done early, considering the number of OFWs that need help.
He said there were at least 3,827 Filipinos languishing in jails in 52 countries and territories as of January 2017.
But Recto warned the figure could go higher to at least 4,452, if those under investigation by host governments were to be treated as behind bars at the time the DFA report was made.
The senator is referring to the 1,084-page DFA state of migrants report sent to the Senate.
Recto said that based on the report, of the 3,827 incarcerated Filipinos, 130 were in death row in 11 countries, with Malaysia having the most with 48 Filipinos “praying for clemency.”
Next is Saudi Arabia, with 43 Filipinos awaiting execution or “forgiveness.”