Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto yesterday said the P1.2-billion “help fund” of the Department of Foreign Affairs this year for eight million Filipinos abroad may not be enough to help these expatriates in distress following President Rodrigo Duterte’s apparent “no OFW left behind” policy.
“If the marching order is to help each and every OFW in need, then the DFA’s P1-billion Assistance to Nationals [ATN] fund and the P200 million for legal assistance for 2018—despite jumping 1.5 times from last year’s fund—will not be sufficient,” he said.
As the DFA throws more lifelines to OFWs in distress, Recto said the government “should also provide additional financial resources to the agency.”
Other budget augmentation sources are funds under presidential disposal, the senator noted, such as the Contingent Fund, and the state gaming revenue shares pooled under the Presidential Social Fund.
The Contingent Fund, designed to respond to unforeseen events, has a budget of P13 billion for 2018, while the chief executive’s social fund, largely from casino regulator Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., is at least P5 billion yearly.
Recto said the charity fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office—the lottery agency under the Office of the President—that is mostly spent for medical assistance can 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,” he said.
“These are the ‘ATN extenders’ that we are looking for, which OFWs deserve, considering that they sent P1.41 trillion in the first 11 months of 2017,” Recto said.
The P1.2 billion “is just 0.09 percent” of the help overseas workers provide for the economy, the senator said.
“If we are giving free college tuition [P40 billion], PhilHealth coverage and social pension for senior citizens [P34 billion], what is this additional help to our OFWs?” he said.
Finding other funding sources this early is a must, considering the number of OFWs needing help, the senator said.
By Recto’s count, there were at least 3,827 Filipinos languishing in jails in 52 countries and territories as of early 2017.
But 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, Recto said, referring to the 1,084-page DFA “state of migrants report” sent to the Senate.
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,” Recto said. Next is Saudi Arabia, with 43 awaiting execution or “forgiveness.”
Illegal drugs topped the list of reasons why Pinoys were in prison abroad, responsible for putting 2,265 Filipinos in foreign jails. Of that number, 1,131 were in Malaysia, 459 in Saudi Arabia, 146 in China, 106 in United Arab Emirates and 63 in Italy. Of those Filipinos facing drug raps, 473 were women.
Immigration offenses came next, accounting for 903 Filipinos jailed abroad, while robbery or theft was the reason why 658 overseas Filipinos were locked up.
By country, Malaysia hosts the most number of Filipinos serving fixed-term jail sentences with 1,927, followed by Saudi Arabia (391), UAE (169), China (147), and Hong Kong (89), rounding up the top five.
By gender, of the 3,069 Filipinos slapped with fixed-term sentences, 2,521 were male, with 548 female.