Congress urged to investigate DFA, OWWA funds in light of delays in repatriation

Migrante International today called on Congress to investigate funds of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in light of the scandalous delays and lapses in the repatriation of remains of overseas Filipino workers.

Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, said that there is a need to thoroughly probe where the P50 million and P100 million allotted for repatriation from the DFA and OWWA, respectively, have gone.

“We have been receiving consistent complaints from families of OFWs that they have been asked to shoulder costs for their kin’s repatriation. Walang palya ito. Worse, when sought for assistance, they were informed that is the policy of Philippine embassies to collect autopsy and airfare costs from the families. Saan ngayon napunta ang mga P150 million?” he said.

Martinez said that according to Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant’s Act, it is the responsibility of the employer, the recruitment agency and, ultimately the DFA or OWWA, to shoulder costs for repatriation.

“More often than not, employers and recruitment agencies cannot be depended upon to fulfill this task as the government has no soundproof mechanism to ensure such. It is therefore mandated by the law that the DFA and OWWA are responsible,” said Martinez.

He said that the OWWA has collected an estimated $12 billion in 2010 from the mandatory $25 contributions from OFW members, of which a portion should be earmarked for emergency repatriation. “For undocumented cases, the OWWA forwards processing and implementation to the DFA which also has funds for this purpose.”

The OWWA funds have been subject to numerous cases of misuse of funds from abusive board members. The DFA, on the other hand, has been complaining of alleged lack of funds “but has failed to repatriate remains of OFWs and those in distress over the years”.

Martinez said that there is a need to counter-check if the allotted funds are trickling down to much-needed welfare services and assistance to OFWs. “We call on Congress to audit and investigate these funds in the coming budget deliberations. Lagi na lang itong napapalagpas at hindi napaparusahan ang mga humuhuthot sa pondong dapat ay para sa mga OFW.

He cited the cases of Mark Lloyd Carmen who was killed in Iran and Marilou Sables who died of cardiac arrest in Taiwan.  “Both the families of Carmen and Sables were asked to shoulder expenses for the repatriation of their remains.”

“While the DFA is claiming that costs for the return of Carmen’s remains were paid from its assistance-to-nationals fund, his mother attests that it was in fact a loan from the department and she was expected to pay them back,” he said.

Martinez added, “In Sables’ case, her ashes were brought home three months after she died. Philippine authorities in Taiwan finally exhumed her remains and brought her ashes home after series of protests from OFWs. Until now, however, she is yet to be united with her family in Iloilo because they are now being asked to shoulder shipping costs of her ashes from Manila to the province.”

He also asked the DFA to hasten the repatriation of unclaimed bodies of OFWs in Iraq. “Kung hindi pa iniulat ng kamag-anak sa amin, hindi pa malalaman ito ng DFA,” he said. ###