“The budget for OFW services is only 0.43 percent of the debt-servicing budget; three precent of the military budget, 14 percent of PPP funds, and 1.9 percent of the presidential un-programmed funds or the President’s pork barrel.” – Migrante International
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) added up $18 billion to the Philippine economy in 2010, but in the Aquino government’s budget proposal for 2012, only one percent will be allotted for their welfare.
In a detailed breakdown and analysis of the 2012 budget for OFWs and their concerns, Migrante International discovered that of the proposed P1.8 trillion ($41.8 billion) budget, direct services for OFWs from concerned government agencies will amount to no more than P3.14 billion ($73 million). This is equivalent to a measly 0.17 percent of the whole national budget. Budget for OFW welfare and services suffered a decrease of P792 million ($18.8 million) from last year’s P3.8 billion ($88 million) divided between 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).
According to Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez, the cuts were made on the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of items concerning direct services for welfare and protection of OFWs in the DOLE and POEA budgets.
The group discovered that while there’s a P90.5 million ($2.16 million) increase in the Foreign Affairs department’s MOOE , the amount is intended mainly for payment of debts incurred from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for emergency repatriation and other emergencies. Much of the OWWA’s funds were reportedly utilized last year to address the the crisis in Libya and multiple disasters in Japan.
“If we exclude the the P90.5 million ($2.16 million) as debt payments to OWWA, funds for welfare services in the DFA would only amount to P3.05 billion ($ 71.4 million), or P792 million ($18.8 million) less than funds allotted in 2011”, Martinez said.
He also pointed out that in the DFA budget funds for assistance to nationals (ATN) are mysteriously unstated. There is only a P30 million ($714,286) minimum amount for the legal assistance fund (LAF) under the item “implementation of RA 10022, or the amended RA 8042 (Migrants’ Act).”
The LAF is for assistance for OFWs in distress, especially those in jail and death row. The ATN, in the meantime, is earmarked for services such as repatriation and medical assistance.
The Migrants Act , however, mandates that at least P100 million ($2.38 million) should be allotted for the LAF.
No transparency in the 2012 budget
Martinez also questioned the lack of transparency in the 2012 national budget, a charge that has also been made by other sectors.
“This is highly contrary to the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) statement that there will be no lump-sum funds. Because the government did not directly lay down on paper how much will be allotted to the LAF and ATN, OFWs have been given reason to worry that their welfare will once again be neglected and the funds made vulnerable to corruption and misuse,” he said.
Martinez said Migrante International had previously exposed budget cuts in the LAF and ATN budgets for the 2011 DFA. The expose’ forced the DBM to admit its “error” and to promise to submit an “erratum” to Congress.
“The DBM reneged on this promise and the DBM attempted to cover-up the budget cuts by saying that it would utilize so-called ‘cash balances’ from ATN savings from 2009 and 2010,” he said.
He added that because of this, even the utilization of the said cash balances has become questionable.
“The DFA had to borrow P90.5 million ($2.16 million) from the OWWA just to be able to do its job,” he said.
The migrant leader said despite new appropriations for anti-human trafficking and overseas disaster preparedness that are being led by the Department of Justice and the Office of the President, the total allotment for OFW welfare and services still suffered a big decrease.
“Also, said funds are in lump-sum. It’s unclear how and where it will be specifically used,” he said.
In the meantime, while funds for welfare and services for OFWs decreased,the budgets of the DOLE and the POEA have increased. The increased allocations, however, are for “marketing and job placement” purposes.
“It is clear that the 2012 budget is no different from previous budgets. We can see from this that the government remains determined to maintain and intensify its labor export policy. Malacañang was not being upfront when it said that it will focus on local job generation and more incentives for returned OFWs to address forced migration. It can even be said that it was lying through its teeth this entire time,” he said.
OFWS left behind in the 2012 budget
Migrante International has also determined that the government is not preparing for the negative impact of the Saudization program, the global debt crisis and the ongoing conflicts in the MENA region.
“If the 2012 budget for OFWs is anything to go by, the government is not doing anything to improve services for OFWs and help them weather and survive the effects of global economic and political developments,” Martinez said.
He decried what he termed as the “mis-prioritization” in the 2012 national budget wherein the government is allotting only P261.83 ($6.27) 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,” he said.
Martinez said the allocations for debt-servicing, privatization (through the Public-Partnership program or PPP), military upgrades and other “white elephants” are much bigger compared to funds for direct services for OFWs.
Funds for OFW assistance are the most negligible in the 2012 budget.
“The budget for OFW services is only 0.43 percent of the debt-servicing budget; three precent of the military budget, 14 percent of PPP funds, and 1.9 percent of the presidential un-programmed funds or the President’s pork barrel,” he said.
Martinez said OFWs and families of OFWs in distress have launched lobbying efforts in Congress and will hold protest actions to call for higher budget for OFW services and welfare.
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