The Senate has adopted Minority Leader Ralph Recto's proposal for the creation of a P100-million "emergency repatriation fund" in the national budget to be used by the Labor secretary to bring home distressed OFWs next year.
Recto, however, challenged administration lawmakers to raise the amount as there are many more "out-of-luck and out-of-cash" Filipino workers abroad waiting to be reunited with their families in the Philippines.
The P3.35 trillion 2017 national budget is still being hammered out by a House-Senate conference panel that will reconcile the two chambers' differing provisions.
The P100-million fund, he stressed, should just be "a component of a bigger help fund for OFWs," which "must reach at least P1.5 billion," or 300 percent bigger than what MalacaAang has proposed for 2017.
For 2017, the Duterte administration has asked Congress to allocate P50 million, to be lodged under the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment, for OFW repatriation. This is on top of the P31 million to be set aside by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration for the same purpose.
Over at the Department of Foreign Affairs, its proposed Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund for 2017 is P400 million, the same as this year's.
Augmenting the DFA's ATN is the Legal Assistance Fund, which will have a proposed funding of P100 million, the same for 2016. "Pagsamahin mo lahat ito, P580 million lang. Kulang na kulang ito sa pangangailangan ng mga OFWs natin na kailangang umuwi sa panahon ng sakuna at kagipitan," Recto pointed out.
"'Yang P500 million, 'yan ang remittance ng mga kababayan natin sa Hong Kong sa loob lamang ng apat na araw at limang oras. P500 million is also what OFWs in Italy remit to their homeland in just 12 days," Recto said.
"Half a billion pesos is our katas ng Saudi in less than 34 hours," the senator pointed out.
The 2017 OFW aid fund is "mere four hours' worth" of all OFW remittances, Recto said, using as basis the $28.48 billion overseas Filipinos sent home last year. "It has grown by 12.3 percent since 2013, but the OFW help fund has remained flat."
In local currency, last year's OFW remittances reached P1.3 trillion, or more than a tenth of the Gross Domestic Product.
Recto said Congress needs to find other sources for OFW repatriation since OWWA spends only 69 centavos, or less than one percent, for repatriation out of every P100 that the agency collects from OFWs.
Citing a Commission on Audit report, Recto noted that OWWA "issued a measly 119 plane tickets for repatriated OFWs last year."
"Hindi pa makakapuno ng isang eroplano. One third lang ng isang Airbus 320, at yan ay para sa isang taon," the senator lamented.
This, despite OWWA spending almost P1.8 billion in 2015, of which P17 million was for the purchase of the 119 airline tickets.
This low figure should not come as a surprise, Recto said, "because the number of returning workers given 'domestic transportation assistance' by OWWA was a mere 856 last year, halos wala pang tatlo kada araw."
Departing OFWs are required to pay a membership contribution of $25 or its local currency equivalent on a per contract basis, but shall not exceed two years. The same amount shall be paid upon renewal of membership in succeeding years.
Source: Senate of the Philippines.