Gov’t hikes funding for OFW-related agencies

by RUBEN JEFFREY A. ASUNCION
www.ofwjournalism.net

QUEZON CITY–TWO government agencies expected to help overseas Filipino workers received increases in funding for this year, budget records showed.

The 2008 General Appropriations Act bared that assistance projects for OFWs by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) got the increments the agencies proposed in last year’s budget hearings.

The labor department got a P33.3-million increase in allocated funds for its “Social Protection Program,” where the budget item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers” falls under.

The program was given P383.3 million this year, up nearly ten percent from its P350 million budget last year.

In addition, the labor department’s “Emergency Repatriation Program,” an item absent from its budget last year, was given P50 million. Another P50 million was allocated for the one-year-old National Reintegration Center for OFWs.

The center was formed during then-Labor Secretary Arturo Brion’s watch. It is expected to provide economic and psycho-social reintegration services to returning OFWs and to OFW families.

Another attached agency, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration also received increases in its budget. The POEA’s “Workers Welfare Assistance and Overseas Placement Services” line item received a budget of P39.5 million. This was nearly two-percent higher than its P38.8-million allocation last year.

A similar increase has also been made in the POEA’s line item “Adjudication Services” with P28.5 million for this year, compared with P27.6 million for last year.

But while these Manila-centric units got majority of the labor department’s total P6.3-billion pie, DOLE’s offices in the regions got a measly share for “workers’ amelioration and welfare services”.

In addition, these regions, where most prospective and former OFWs and OFW families live, saw budget for these services reduced by nearly P3 million to P36.6 million from the P38.2-million budget allocation last year.

In contrast, the labor department’s allocation for personal services (PS) continued to see year-on-year increases as against, for one, maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

For the item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers,” for example, around P207.6 million for personal services was allocated for this year.

This amount is nearly double than the P168.2 million allotted for maintenance and operating costs for this year.

Last year, the program received P202.7 million for PS while its MOOE was allocated only P145.3 million.

Over-all, the labor department’s budget this year increased by 28.24 percent to P6.271 billion from nearly P5 billion in 2007. POEA’s budget, which is part of the total budget, also increased to P238.9 million this year, from P231.6 million in 2007.

POEA’s budget is merely 20 percent of the total collection of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, if OWWA was able to collect the $25 from 3,000 OFWs leaving every day.

Since it is a government-owned and controlled corporation, the OWWA is excluded from the annual GAA and relies mainly on the membership fees being paid by departing OFWs, and not from taxpayers’ money. The US$25 contributions are for the provision of welfare and economic services to OFWs.

Assuming the a million OFWs left last year, OWWA’s coffer would be around a billion pesos at an average exchange rate of US$1=P42. That amount would just be 17 percent of the labor department’s budget.

OWWA’s Board of Trustees provides the annual budgets, which must be requested to them.

In 2006, says a Commission on Audit report, OWWA spent some PhP910.715 million while earning P2.062 billion.

Another agency tasked with the welfare of overseas Filipinos is the Department of Foreign Affairs, which also received an increased budget.

The DFA’s provision on the “Implementation of RA 8042” was increased by 170 percent to P236.7 million this year from only P87.7 million in 2007.

Being funded under this category are the Legal Assistance Fund for the litigation cases of OFWs and the Assistance-to-Nationals Fund. The latter is the department’s funds for the repatriation of OFWs.

The over-all budget of the department for 2008 is at P10.2 billion, up by P2.8 billion from the allocated 2007 budget of P7.4 billion.

Meanwhile, funds being allocated for the maintenance expenses of “Implementation of RA 8042’ are higher than for personal services, both for the years 2007 and 2008.

For this year, around P223.69 million were set-aside for MOOE while P13.03 million were allotted for PS. Meanwhile for the previous year, P77.99 million were allocated for MOOE while only around P9.7 million were allotted for PS.

The government has allocated a total of P 1.066 trillion for the 2008 national budget.

However, the 2008 General Appropriations Act also showed that a government agency tasked with assisting Filipino immigrants overseas received lesser funds for the same purpose for 2008 as compared to the previous year.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas received only around P26 million for its “Development Coordination and Implementation of the Welfare Programs for Filipinos Overseas,” down from the P27.2 million the commission got in 2007.

For 2008, the program’s funds for its personal services were allocated at around P14.4 million, higher than the P10.6 million budget allocated for its maintenance expenses. In 2007, PS got P14.89 million while MOOE received only around P10.19 million.

The CFO’s over-all budget for 2008 was P38.3 million, down by P2 million from the P40 million it received for the previous year. The commission is attached under the Office of the President.

Despite these increases in government’s cachet of funds mainly for welfare of OFWs, Senate President Manny Villar proposes a law to set aside P1 billion for welfare and legal assistance to distressed OFWs.

Ellene Sana of nonprofit Center for Migrant Advocacy, however, told the OFW Journalism Consortium money is not the solution to such cases.

The Philippine government already has a system of assisting distressed OFWs, Sana said.

What hinders that meaningful environment of providing assistance unto OFWs is the implementation of “a comprehensive set of laws protecting overseas workers.”

“Implementation in reality remains wanting,” she added.