OFWs in distress camped outside the Philipine Consulate i Jeddah. File photo from AFP
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday scored Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad for the conditional implementation of the P100 million legal assistance fund for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in a veto message by President Aquino.
“Would funding for the legal assistance for migrant workers now fall under Secretary Abad’s discretion, too?”,” Binay asked.
With this, Binay asked Abad for clarification on the said veto message on the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2015 dated December 23, 2014.
She was referring to the following item under the President’s veto message:
“To ensure that the implementation of Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)-OSEC, Special Provision No. 11 ‘Legal Assistance Fund’, Volume II-A, page 1166 is aligned with budgeting laws, rules and regulations, the appropriations herein for the legal assistance fund shall be used in accordance with R.A. 10022 (An Act Amending Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995) and remain part of the General Fund. The creation of special funds require the identification of income sources, which are then earmarked for specified purposes as provided in Section 29 (3) of the Constitution, which states that ‘(a)ll money collected on any tax levied for a special fund and paid out for such purpose only’. Thus, the appropriations in this Act for the legal assistance fund clearly suggest the lack of income sources to justify the creation of a special fund.”
Binay in particular wanted explanations on the conditional implementation pertinent to Special Provision No. 11.
“How do we interpret this conditional implementation of funding to provide legal aid to our OFWs? Hindi ba parang nagpapakita ito ng kawalan ng concern para sa mga kababayan nating nangibang-bansa para maitaguyod ang mga pamilya nila (Doesn’t this tend to show insensitivity to our countrymen who take pains to work abroad just to support the family)?” she asked.
Binay also questioned why it was deemed necessary to create a “special fund” when funding for legal assistance for migrant workers has existed since the 2011 GAA.
“Instead of being able to utilize the fund outright for the benefit of our OFWs in distress, do we now have to go through DBM to defend our countrymen in need of assistance? Remember, they are parents or children of fellow Filipinos here,” Binay lamented.
It was Senator Binay who asked that the legal assistance fund for OFWs be raised from P30 million to P100 million during the deliberations for the 2015 national budget in the Senate.
She maintained that there was no “substantial change as to the legal assistance fund that has been increased in the GAA of 2015” and that the change was “only an increase from a meager P30 million in 2011 to P100 million in 2015.”
Data from the DFA showed that as of June 2014, there are 6,002 Filipinos imprisoned abroad. Some 807 of them are facing drug-related cases, 79 are accused of crimes punishable by death, and 3,407 are victims of human trafficking syndicates.
Binay argued that last year’s P30 million budget for legal assistance was a stark contrast to the amount remitted to the country by OFWs year after year. Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed that from January to August last year, OFWs had remitted a total of $17.232 billion.
“Our OFWs contributed significantly to our economy, and yet this is the meager assistance that we can show in return?” asked the senator.