OFW protests vs. closure of foreign posts gaining ground

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International today said that Filipinos in countries that will be affected by plans of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to close down 12 Philippine embassies and consulates by the end of 2012 are up in arms and expressing disappointment in the Aquino administration.

According to Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, so far Filipino communities from Palau, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Romania and Caracas have expressed alarm over the impending closure of Philippine embassies and consulates in their respective areas.

Filipino communities in Palau and Barcelona have already circulated petition campaigns, while overseas Filipinos elsewhere are gearing for protest actions. There are approximately 5,000 Filipinos in Palau, while Barcelona hosts a significant number of Filipinos in the whole of Spain, totaling to an estimated 30,000.

“The DFA had announced plans to close down at least 12 Philippine embassies and consulates last year, during budget deliberations, as part of the Aquino administration’s so-called austerity measures. The plan is to complete the closures by end of 2012. They, however, refused to disclose which embassies or consulates were in danger of closing down,” Martinez said.

He added, “Not only is it highly impractical but outright insensitive to the plight of our OFWs. We have a shortage of Philippine posts abroad as it is. It is unfortunate that the Aquino administration is assailing embassies and consulates, the very support system of our OFWs abroad, for its austerity measures and at the expense of welfare services for OFWs.”

Sa halip na bawasan, dapat pa ngang dagdagan ang mga embahada at konsulado sa ibang bansa. Kulang na kulang ang mga ito para bigyan ng serbisyo ang mga kababayan natin,” Martinez said.

There are currently 66 Philippine embassies, 23 consulates and four diplomatic missions worldwide. Overseas Filipinos are situated in at least 239 countries around the world.

He cited countries where there are big concentrations of overseas Filipinos or numerous numbers of OFWs in distress but are lacking in Philippines posts. In Tanzania, for example, where hundreds of Filipino seafarers are in jail for illegal fishing, there is no Philippine post. The closest embassy OFWs in distress could run to is the Philippine embassy in Kenya. The embassy in Kenya, on the other hand, covers 12 other African countries.

In Saudi Arabia where there is an estimated 1.8 million OFWs there are only two Philippine posts, an embassy in Riyadh and a consulate in Jeddah. Most of Migrante International’s cases of human and labor rights abuses, mysterious deaths, jailed OFWs and OFWs on death row are in Saudi. Posts in Saudi have also been reported “not accessible” to Filipinos in Saudi provinces. Hong Kong and Singapore, with more than 150,000 OFWs each, only have one embassy.

“The list goes on and on. The point is, we cannot afford to have less Philippine posts when more than 10% of our population is abroad,” Martinez said.

He also said that even the logic of closing down embassies and consulates to save funds is irrational. Sen. Drilon said that the government will be able to save P100 million to P150 million from the closure of 12 embassies and consulates. Martinez however said that the 93 existing Philippine posts around the world only enjoy an average budget of P1.07 million to P1.6 million each.

“The bottomline is that they plan to close down posts that are already operating on very low funds. Compared to other agencies that enjoy immensely huge budgets that breed corruption and misuse of funds, they choose to cut down on embassies and consulates. Where is the sense in that?”

Martinez said that this recent development is yet another tactic of the Aquino government to decrease funds intended for direct services for OFWs.

Migrante International opposed budget cuts in the 2011 national budget on direct services for OFWs in concerned agencies including the DFA. In the P1.8 trillion budget, direct services for OFWs in concerned government agencies only amounts to not more than P3.14 billion or only 0.17 % of the total budget, or a per capita spending of P261.83. Funds for direct services for OFWs in concerned agencies were slashed by approximately P792 million. “The closure of PH posts and embassies is one direct and concrete effect of budget cuts on OFW services,” Martinez said.###