no ofw left behind

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ P1.2 billion help fund this year for its 8 million citizens abroad may not be enough to aid expatriate Filipinos in distress following President Duterte’s apparent “no OFW left behind” policy, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said.

Recto said “if the marching order is to help each and every OFW in need, then the DFA’s P1 billion Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund and the P200 million for legal assistance for 2018 – despite jumping 1 ½ times from last year – will not be sufficient.”

“As the DFA throws more lifelines to OFWs in distress, we should also provide additional financial resources to the agency,” he added.

Other budget augmentation sources, Recto said, are funds under presidential disposal.

He enumerated these as the “Contingent Fund, and the state gaming revenue shares pooled under Presidential Social Fund.”

The Contingent Fund, designed to respond to unforeseen events, has a budget of P13 billion for 2018, while the chief executive’s social fund, largely from PACGOR, is at least P5 billion yearly.

He said the charity fund of the PCSO, an agency under the Office of the President, and mostly spent for medical assistance, can be used to help sick OFWs.

“Nothing in the law prohibits its ‘cross-border’ disbursement for as long as the beneficiaries are Filipino citizens. The long arm of compassion must reach those in distant shores,” he said.

“Ganito ‘yung mga ‘ATN extenders’ na hinahanap natin, which OFWs deserve, considering that they sent P1.41 trillion in the first 11 months of 2017,” Recto said.

“’Yang P1.2 billion ay 0.09 percent lang ng tulong nila sa ekonomiya,” he said. “Kung nagbibigay na tayo ng libreng college tuition (P40 billion), PhilHealth coverage at social pension sa senior citizens (P34 billion), ano ba naman ang dagdag na tulong sa mgaOFWs.”

Recto said finding other funding sources this early is a must, considering the number of OFWs needing help.

By Recto’s count, there were at least 3,827 Filipinos languishing in jails in 52 countries and territories as of beginning of 2017.

But the figure could go higher, to at least 4,452, if those under investigation by host governments were to be treated as behind bars at the time the DFA report was made, Recto said, referring to the 1,084-page DFA state of migrants report sent to the Senate.

Of the 3,827 incarcerated Filipinos, 130 were in death row in 11 countries, with Malaysia having the most with 48 Filipinos “praying for clemency,” Recto said. Next is Saudi Arabia, with 43 awaiting execution or “forgiveness”.

As to reasons for incarceration, illegal drugs topped the list, responsible for putting 2,265 Filipinos in foreign jails, with 1,131 in Malaysia, 459 in Saudi Arabia, 146 in China, 106 in United Arab Emirates and 63 in Italy.

Of those Filipinos facing drug raps, 473 were women.

Immigration offenses came next, accounting for 903 Filipinos jailed abroad, while robbery or theft was the reason why 658 overseas Filipinos were locked up.

By country, Malaysia hosts the most number of Filipinos serving “fixed-term jail sentences” with 1,927, followed by Saudi Arabia (391), UAE (169), China (147), and Hong Kong (89), rounding up the top five.

By gender, of the 3,069 Filipinos slapped with “fixed-term including life imprisonment”, 2,521 were male, and 548, female.

the noblest motive is the greatest good for the greatest number