Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the proposed 2015 budget of P527 million for the assistance of Filipinos in distress abroad is grossly inadequate in light of unstable conditions in strife-vulnerable countries which could anytime trigger the evacuation of Filipinos.
Recto said this emergency assistance fund should be raised to at least P1 billion.
The amount he said is “a drop in the bucket or one-tenth of one percent of the P1.115 trillion pesos” that overseas Filipinos remitted through formal channels last year.
The emergency fund for OFWs should be a dividend of what they plowed back last year, he said.
Funds which can be tapped to assist an estimated 10 million Filipino nationals abroad are lodged in three items in the proposed P2.6 trillion national budget for next year.
The biggest is the Assistance to Nationals Fund or ATN Fund managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has a proposed funding of P350 million next year, up from P300 million this year.
The Department of Labor and Employment has two programs: Welfare Services to OFWS with a proposed budget of P187.7 million, and an Emergency Repatriation Program for which P50 million has been budgeted.
“In all, there’s this kitty of P537 million which the government can dip into in helping a Filipino who is in trouble with the law or Filipinos who must be evacuated from places in turmoil,” Recto said.
“This comes up to about P1.48 million a day. Kulang na kulang. Kung P20,000 ang pamasahe sa eroplano ng isang OFW na maysakit, na kailangan ibalik sa Pilipinas, mga 70 lang kada araw ang kayang pauwiin. Eh sa Middle East pa lang daang libo na ang backlog,” Recto said.
And in a world where civil strife could worsen living conditions of OFWs and trigger their evacuation overnight, as in the case of Libya, the amount cannot fund their mass departure, Recto said.
“Sapat ba ang pondo na pang-arkila ng barko tulad sa kaso ngayon sa Libya? Do we have funds to charter planes in the event that we need to bring Filipinos out of the next hot spot?” Recto said.
“Kung merong 13,122 OFWs sa Libya at sa kahit P10,000 lang ang ayuda bawat isa, aabot na ng P131 milyon ang kakailanganin. Dyan pa lang said na ang ATN fund natin,” Recto said.
Recto said the ATN Fund is not just used to fund mass repatriation “but is tapped to help Filipinos battling challenging circumstances as diverse as being in trouble with the law, or victimized by abusive employers, or incapacitated by a debilitating disease.”
Just to cite an example, an estimated 3,732 Filipinos were languishing in jails in 53 countries at the beginning of last year.