Senator Nancy Binay on Thursday scored the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for not alloting budget for the legal assistance to distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the proposed 2016 national budget.
Binay, an opposition senator, said this showed the poor support that the administration has been giving to OFWs, especially in looking after their welfare in times of distress.
“Ganito ba tayo tumanaw sa mga sakripisyo at paghihirap ng ating mga OFWs? Zero budget para sa kanilang legal assistance fund samantalang bilyon ang nire-remit nila kada taon sa ating ekonomiya,” she said in a press statement.
Sought for comment, DBM Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said they are validating Binay's claim.
“I don’t think that it’s really zero, but we are validating that right now because I think there may be issues there about disbursement," he said.
Binay said the OFW legal assistance fund has been dwindling since last year, when the DBM proposed only P30 million for the fund.
Binay had pushed for increasing the fund to P100 million, which the Congress approved but President Benigno Aquino III conditionally vetoed when he signed the 2015 national budget, citing lack of income source to justify the creation of the fund.
Binay said Republic Act No. 10022 or the amended Migrant Workers Act provides for the government to set aside P100 million to aid OFWs in their legal concerns, which the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) handles.
The senator vowed to push for the inclusion of the legal assistance fund in the DFA’s 2016 budget.
“I will make it a point during the budget deliberations na mabigyan ng LAF ang ating mga OFWs. We cannot compromise the lives of these OFWs just because we don’t have the budget to provide them legal assistance,” Binay said.
“Napaghahalatang manhid ang pamahalaan sa mga hinaing ng mga OFW, isang example na lamang itong zero budget na ayaw nitong tulungan ang mga OFW,” she added.
Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, said this is just one of the Aquino administration's "anti-OFW" policies similar to the automatic collection of the P550.00 terminal fee from plane passengers, including OFWs, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
RA 10022 exempts OFWs from paying terminal fee. Although OFWs can make a refund, they complained that the process was burdensome and time-consuming.
“The terminal fee is integrated into the airline ticket pero supposedly exempted sila sa pagbabayad. At bakit kung kailan lamang sila makakauwi ng Pilipinas [ay] saka lang sila makakapila para makolekta ito?” Binay said.
She also mentioned the plan of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to open balikbayan boxes and tax personal items.
“Mabuti na lang at napigilan natin ang implementasyon ng policy na iyon, na isang panggigipit sa ating mga OFWs,” Binay said. —Amita O. Legaspi and Kathrina Charmaine Alvarez/KBK, GMA News