Press Release
September 14, 2016

2017 OFW aid fund is 'mere 4 hours' worth of OFW remittances'
Recto wants DFA's OFW help fund tripled to P1.5 B

While earnings remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers have grown by 12.3 percent since 2013, or to $28.48 billion by end of 2015, the proposed budget of two diplomatic funds to assist OFWs in distress will remain flat at P500 million next year, or equivalent to a mere "one-third of one percent" of their contribution to the economy.

"At that level, the government won't be able to help the Mary Jane Velosos of this county, and the thousands of our compatriots who need legal, medical, repatriation assistance," Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said.

Although Veloso is languishing in the Indonesian death row for heroin trafficking, "it should be remembered that she went there with the sole intent of becoming an OFW, and her misfortune is the reason why every year, we set aside funds to help victims like her," Recto said.

Sadly, said funds are "perpetually low and grossly inadequate" to respond to distress calls by Filipinos abroad, lamented Recto.

For 2017, the proposed Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is P400 million, the same as this year's, Recto revealed.

Augmenting the DFA's ATN is the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF), which will have a proposed funding of P100 million, the same for 2016.

To show how these amounts are drops in the bucket of OFW remittances, Recto said the P500 million is what OFWs send back home in "three hours and 23 minutes."

"'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," the senator pointed out.

In local currency, last year's OFW remittances reached P1.3 trillion, or more than a tenth of the Gross Domestic Product.

Allocations of other agencies for OFW assistance are also miniscule, Recto said, citing as an example the Department of Labor and Employment's (DOLE) proposed P50 million budget of its Emergency Repatriation Program for 2017.

"There's another proposed P68 million fund for "reintegration services" of DOLE but this will be for OFWs who are already home. Our focus should be on the quick-reaction funds for our diplomatic posts," Recto said.

One agency which could help is the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA), but this agency funded by mandatory OFW contributions "issued a measly 119 plane tickets for repatriated OFWs last year," Recto said, citing a Commission on Audit report.

"Hindi pa makakapuno ng isang eroplano. One third lang ng isang Airbus 320, at yan ay para sa isang taon," Recto said.

This, despite OWWA spending almost P1.8 billion in 2015, of which P17 million was for the purchase of the 119 airline tickets.

This low figure should not come as a surprise, Recto said, "because the number of returning workers given 'domestic transportation assistance' by OWWA was a mere 856 last year, halos wala pang tatlo kada araw."

Recto urged the Duterte administration to hike funding for "the ATN, the LAF, the repatriation budget of DOLE, the OWWA programs and other similar programs."

He recommended a minimum P1 billion for the ATN and P500 million for LAF, "or at least P1.5 billion, triple than what is proposed."

The idea, he said, is to enlarge the kitty which the government can dip into to help Filipinos abroad who are in trouble with the law, who must be evacuated from places in turmoil, who need medical help, Recto said.

A preliminary count made by Recto's office, based on recent official dispatches by the DFA's foreign posts to the home office, showed that 6,356 Filipinos were facing legal cases from July to December 2015.

Also during that six-month period, 3,253 Filipinos reportedly benefitted from the ATN Fund.

DFA pegged at 12.8 million the number of Philippine nationals abroad, including immigrants and permanent residents of other countries.

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