OFWs score DBM “cover-up” of budget cuts; “Cash balances” should be used to address urgent cases

Worldwide alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Migrante International today scored the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for “covering-up” budget cuts in the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) for OFWs.

In a recent statement by the DBM, it said that LAF funds would increase from the initial proposed P27 million to P129.9 million in compliance with allocations mandated by Republic Act 10022, or the Migrants’ Act.

The DBM said that the LAF would be augmented by so-called cash balances from 2009 and projected balances from 2010. It also said that the DBM is set to submit an “erratum” to Congress to include allocations from the Department of Foreign Affairs (P50M, increasing the initial P27M), OWWA welfare fund (P20M) and Presidential Contingency Fund (P22.6M), to come up with a total of P129.9M for the 2011 LAF.

Cash balances from 2009 (P52.6M) and 2010 (projected P67.7), on the other hand, would add up another P120.3M to the LAF, totaling to at least P217.7M for the 2011 LAF, according to the DBM.

According to Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez, however, the DBM’s computation is appears to be a cover-up after OFWs around the world have sounded off their protests to the budget cuts. “It seems the DBM is out to confuse and whitewash after we have correctly pointed out that the proposed 2011 LAF is a blatant violation of RA 10022.”

He said that Section 18 of the RA clearly mandates that at least P100M be allocated for the LAF in every fiscal year. The LAF funds should be sourced from the Presidential Contingency Fund (P50M), Presidential Social Fund (P30M), OWWA Welfare Fund (P20M) and from the National Treasury through automatic appropriations in the General Appropriations Act (P30M).

“It is not stated anywhere in RA 10022 that cash balances be used to make up for shortcomings in the LAF. If there really are cash balances, these should still be released retroactively on top of the P100M mandated by law,” he said.

Martinez also clarified that, in DBM’s computation, the P30M from the Presidential Social Fund is not included while funds from the Presidential contingency fund fall P27.3M short from the mandated P50M.

Simple lang naman ang nakasaad sa batas, bakit pinapaikot-ikot pa ng DBM? While it would appear now that there is an increase in the LAF, there are still questions on the sources of the funds as per mandated in RA 10022. We hope that this is not just an attempt to muddle up the issue of poor budget for OFWs,” he said.

Martinez said that they are prepared to bring up these questions and inquiries in a dialogue with the DBM on September 30.

Cash balances outrageous in light of many urgent cases

Martinez also asked the DBM to explain “why they are projecting unused funds in the 2010 LAF and adding it onto the 2011 budget when there are numerous cases of OFWs in distress that need urgent legal attention.”

“We are enraged that the DBM is carrying over 2009 and 2010 LAF and ATN cash balances to the 2011 budget when there are 108 OFWs in death row. Of the 108, at least seven are set to be executed in the next few months, all of them drug mule victims.”

The DFA, for instance, has been implementing a policy of not providing legal assistance to drug mules because ‘the budget is short’. “Kung totoo ngang may cash balances, they should immediately disburse it to urgent cases in need of legal assistance instead,” he said.

He also cited cases of return of remains and repatriation wherein OFWs’ families were asked to shoulder expenses because the DFA said that they are short of funds. “We have all these cases documented, complete with signed affidavits and testimonies from the families. Saan ngayon ang mga sinasabing cash balances ng gobyerno?”

Martinez said that Migrante International Home Office and its chapters around the world are set to hold internationally-coordinated actions on October 8 to protest OFW budget cuts and present OFWs’ assessment of Pres. Aquino’s first 100 days in office. ###