Budget for OFW assistance P73M short; Meanwhile, P32.8B in fees collected from OFWs yearly – Migrante International

Migrante International today called on Congress to oppose Malacanang’s proposal to cut the budget for legal assistance for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), saying that the sector should figure in the Aquino administration’s priorities.

Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, said that it is lamentable that Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s “austerity measures” are being implemented at the expense of OFWs.

Among the funds greatly affected by Aquino’s austerity measures is the proposed budget intended for legal assistance for OFWs in distress which has been slashed by half, from P50 million this year to P27 million for 2011.

Mukhang walang maaasahan ang ating mga kababayang OFW kay PNoy. Kung ito ang daang matuwid, bakit ang mga OFW ang namimilipit?,” he said.

He appealed to Congress to oppose the proposed budget cut. “It is a gross violation of Republic Act 10022, or the amended Migrant Workers Act, formerly RA 8042. Kulang na nga binawasan pa,” he said.

Martinez said that RA 10022 mandates that at least P100 million be allotted within the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) budget for legal assistance and assistance to nationals. These funds cover repatriation funds, medical assistance and other welfare services for OFWs in distress. He also added that in the amended law, another P30 million should be allotted from the General Appropriations Act to cover the same purpose for OFWs.

“Malacanang should definitely review its priorities.” There are 108 OFWs facing death row, 7,000 Filipino nationals in jails abroad, at least 10,000 stranded and seeking repatriation in the Middle East alone, according to Martinez.

“With P32.8 billion collected yearly, gov’t owes OFWs much more”

Martinez said that while funds for assistance to nationals and legal assistance have suffered greatly in the proposed 2011 budget, corruption-prone funds related to OFWs seem to be “getting off the hook.”

“Budget hearings for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) did not even tackle where the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) funds went, or the countless unnecessary and onerous fees collected by the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and other government agencies.”

OFWs have been complaining of mandatory collection of fees, such as the $25 OWWA membership fee, POEA’s processing fees, medicare, and costs for the acquisition of 76 signatures from various offices, Pag-Ibig contributions, and the arbitrary increase in the new e-passport fees.

“All in all, these amount to at least P20,000 per OFW that passes through the POEA. For every 1.6 million OFWs that leave the country yearly, the government collects more or less P32.8 billion. This amount is on top of OFW remittances. Pero halos magmakaawa kaming mga OFW para sa suporta mula sa mga ahensyang ito. Clearly, the government owes us more than a mere P27 million?”

Martinez called on Congress to investigate funds collected by OWWA, POEA and Pag-Ibig “to ensure that OFWs are not being made into milking cows for questionable government ventures.” He also called on Congress to investigate the anomalous and overpriced e-passport contract entered into by the DFA.

Martinez said that they are set to troop to Congress with OFW victims and their families to appeal to lawmakers to increase the budget for OFW legal and welfare assistance. Migrante International will also hold a picket-protest on August 23 at the House of Representatives to call for the investigation of the OWWA funds and other mandatory fees and to oppose the budget cut for OFWs.  ###