MANILA, Philippines — Senator Nancy Binay questioned why, despite estimated remittances of $24 billion from overseas Filipino workers this year, thus helping keep the economy afloat, the government has only allotted P30 million in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ 2015 budget as legal assistance to distressed workers abroad.
“Nagtataka po tayo kung bakit ang liit ng budget na ibinibigay ng pamahalaan para tugunan ang pangangailangang legal ng mga overseas Filipino workers samantalang napakalaki ang naiaambag nila sa ekonomiya natin. Parang unfair naman kung bibigyan lang natin ng P30 million na allotment ‘yung mga itinuturing nating bagong bayani (I am wondering why the budget given by the government to address the legal needs of overseas Filipino workers is so small when they have contributed so much to our economy. It seems unfair to allot only P30 million for those we hail as new heroes,” Binay said Wednesday.
The World Bank’s estimate that OFW remittances could reach $24 billion this year would make the Philippines the world’s third largest recipient of remittances.
The lender’s forecast is higher than the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ estimate of $21.5 billion for the entire 2012.
The BSP last week reported that remittances rose 6 percent year-on-year to $2 billion in September, with transfers hitting $17.3 billion at the close of the first nine months of the year.
Remittances, which account for 10 percent of the Philippine economy, have helped fuel consumer spending, which comprised over three-fourths of the country’s gross domestic product and lifted growth to a better-than-expected 6.1 in the first half of this year.
BSP data showed that a total of $17.232 billion had been remitted to the country by OFWs from January to August 2014.
In 2011 alone, OFW remittances hit $20.11 (or P871.25 billion), about 6.8 percent of our GNI for that year.
Binay moved to increase the legal assistance fund for OFWs to P100 million in the DFA’s proposed 2015 national budget, noting that P30 million would not be enough even if the agency uses up balances from previous years.
“Itong pondo na ito, ‘yung (This fund, the) legal assistance fund, covers the provision of legal assistance to all migrant Filipino workers, whether documented or not,” she said.
Binay asked the DFA during the plenary hearing how much it costs to hire foreign law firms to handle cases involving Filipinos.
Legarda said legal fees cost an average of $10,000, or around P450,000, per case.
According to the DFA, as of June 2014, there are 6,002 Filipinos who in jail abroad for various offenses.
Based on current records, there are 807 Filipinos facing drug-related cases, 79 are accused of crimes punishable by death, and 3,407 are victims of human trafficking syndicates.
With only P30 million, Binay said it would be impossible for the DFA to assist OFWs in trouble.
“‘Yung $10,000 eh baka acceptance fee pa lang ‘yun, so paano na ang mga appearances ng mga lawyers? Kulang na kulang ang natitirang pondo ng department para dito (The $10,000 might be only for the acceptance fee, so what about the lawyers’ appearances? The remaining funds of the DFA are nowhere near enough),” she said.
The DFA said there are still 201 pending cases involving OFWs in Saudi Arabia but that its budget for the fourth quarter of 2014 is down to P5.4 million.
“Kung sa original na P30-million na budget, 75 lawyers lang ang maha-hire mo for all the cases (With the original budget of P30 million, you can only hire 75 lawyers for all the cases),” Binay said. “Mas maraming OFWs na matutulungan kung madadagdagan ang legal assistance fund sa 2015 (More OFWs will be helped if we increase the legal assistance fund in 2015),” she added.
(Source: Ernie Reyes, InterAksyon.com)