OFWs in solidarity with students Int’l actions vs. P792M budget cut on OFW services set  

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families Migrante International today expressed solidarity with students who walked out of their classes yesterday to protest budget cuts in state colleges and universities.

Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said that OFWs are drawing inspiration from the successful student strikes in intensifying their own fight against budget cuts on direct OFW services.

“We congratulate the students, perhaps arguably most of them children of OFWs, for the nationwide strikes. Their actions have undeniably brought to national attention the misplaced priorities of the Aquino government in the national budget and paved the way for other sectors to air similar grievances and demands,” Martinez said.

The migrant leader said that Migrante chapters all over the world are also preparing for international actions against budget cuts on direct OFW services. “We call on OFWs around the world to link up and make our protests heard. Let us not allow the railroading of an anti-OFW and pro-labor export national budget.”

A petition campaign against OFW budget cuts and calling for higher budget for OFW services is presently circulating among OFW communities around the world. Signatures will be submitted in time for the bicameral deliberations of the 2012 national budget.

Like SUCs and other social services, Martinez said, funds for direct OFW services were slashed and will get a measly share in the 2012 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

In the proposed P1.8 trillion budget, direct services for OFWs from concerned government agencies will only amount to not more than P3.14 billion or a measly 0.17 % of the total budget, according to global alliance Migrante International.

Budget for OFW welfare and services suffered an 18% decrease (P792 million) from last year’s P3.8 million allotted for specific items in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Department of Justice (DOJ) as lead agency of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the Office of the President (OP).

OFWs raked in USD $18 billion remittances by yearend 2010 but will only get less than one percent share in the 2012 national budget, he said.

He decried “mis-prioritization” in the 2012 national budget, resulting in a mere P261.83 per capita spending for the total number of 12 million OFWs worldwide. “This is a far cry from the billions of dollars of remittances we rake in and the profit the government makes from OFWs through various fees and charges.”

Cuts were made in the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of items concerning direct services for welfare and protection of OFWs in the DOLE and POEA budgets.

In the DFA budget, on the other hand, there is a P90.5 million increase in the MOOE but it is intended mainly for payment of debts incurred from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for emergency repatriation and other emergencies, namely the crisis in Libya and multiple disasters in Japan, during the first half of 2011.

“Without the P90.5 million as debt payments to OWWA, funds for welfare services in the DFA would only amount to P3.05 billion or P792 million less than funds allotted in 2011”, Martinez said.

He also pointed out that in the DFA budget, apart from the P30 million minimum amount for the legal assistance fund (LAF) under the item “implementation of RA 10022, or the amended RA 8042 (Migrants’ Act)”, funds for assistance to nationals (ATN) are mysteriously unstated.

The LAF is for legal assistance for OFWs in distress, especially those in jail and death row; while the ATN is earmarked for services such as repatriation and medical assistance. RA 10022 mandates that at least P100 million should be allotted for the LAF.

Martinez questioned lack of transparency in the 2012 national budget saying that it is contrary to the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) statement that there will be no lump-sum funds. “By not explicitly stating how much will be allotted to the LAF and ATN, OFWs fear that intended funds will once again be overlooked, or worse, be vulnerable to corruption and misuse,” he said.

It can be remembered that Migrante International exposed budget cuts in the LAF and ATN budgets for the 2011 DFA budget resulting in the DBM admitting its “error” and promising to submit an “erratum” to Congress. However, no erratum was made and the DBM attempted to cover-up the budgets cut by saying that it will utilize so-called “cash balances” from ATN savings from 2009 and 2010.

“Even the utilization of these cash balances are questionable now, when the DFA had to borrow P90.5 million from the OWWA just to be able to do its job,” Martinez said.

He added that despite new appropriations for anti-human trafficking and overseas disaster preparedness, in the DOJ and OP respectively, overall allotment for OFW welfare and services still suffered a big decrease. Also, said funds are in lump-sum and it is unclear how and where they will be specifically used.

Martinez said that while funds for welfare and services for OFWs decreased, increases were made in the DOLE and POEA budgets mainly for their “marketing and job placement” purposes. “The 2012 budget is clearly meant to further intensify Aquino’s labor export policy.”

“There is also no indication in the 2012 budget that the government is preparing for an even worse crisis that is foreseen to beset OFWs in light of the Saudization program, the global debt crisis and the ongoing conflicts in the MENA region,” Martinez said.

Compared to other allocations such as debt-servicing, privatization (through PPP), unsustainable dole-outs, military budget and other “white elephants”, direct services for OFWs are among the least funded in the 2012 budget.

Martinez said that budget for OFW services is only 0.43% of the debt-servicing budget, 3% of the military budget, 14% of PPP funds,  and 1.9% of the presidential unprogrammed funds, deemed as Aquino’s pork barrel. ###