DFA to bill Mindanao company for workers' repatriation

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will ask tuna exporting giant Citra Mina to pay government for the expenses it incurred for the repatriation of the company's alleged fishing crew arrested in Indonesia.

"We ourselves will write Citra Mina," said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jesus Yabes in a dialogue with the workers on Monday, February 23.

He said the department will send a bill showing the plane ticket costs for the return of 43 workers, who arrived in Manila early Monday morning after being detained in Indonesia for months.

Asked when the letter will be transmitted, Yabes refused to disclose details.

He gave guarantees that the DFA will insist on the bill if Citra Mina refuses to pay or fails to reply.

He said the DFA will refer the matter to the government lawyers at the Office of the Solicitor General if Citra Mina still refuses to reimburse the expenses despite repeated demand letters.

Yabes learned from the fishers that they were employed by the tuna exporter, which they said paid their salaries and demanded fishing stock from them to obtain salary advances.

The 43 fishers were aboard fishing boat Love Merben II, which was seized in Indonesia last August 26 for having an expired fishing permit. 

They were detained in Indonesia's immigration office in Ternate Island after failing to present travel documents, including passports.

"They should not have been sent there without the necessary documentation…. The entity primarily responsible for this is the company," Yabes told Rappler.

While appealing for the workers' understanding given their delayed state-subsidized return flights, Yabes said their rescue shows the government is not amiss on its duty.

Delay due to problem in funding 

The DFA executive said the 43 workers' stay in Indonesia took longer than necessary and dragged on for 6 months due to problems in funding their flight.

He explained that the DFA had to take money from the fund allotted to repatriate migrant Filipino workers in war-torn Libya, which is under Crisis Alert Level 4.

The alert level signals a mandatary return of all Filipino migrant workers there and a ban on the entry of new ones. 

The process of asking the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the use of these funds for another purpose took some time, Yabes said.

He said he is cautious with budgetary matters in his office, explaining to the workers that there have been state officials who now face criminal cases for misappropriated state funds.

"You lose your job and you go to prison. And the money, you didn't even see it. It went to something else. It didn't go to your pocket, but you're still liable," he explained.  

Worth it

The purchase of plane tickets for the fishers who have been away from their families during both Christmas and New Year was all worth it, he added.

He told the workers the DFA could have sent a ship, but instead secured a flight for them. 

"Mas mahal, pero mabilis (It was more expansive, but it was fast)," he said. 

"Hindi ko naman gusto yung 6 months kayong nadi-detain (It was hard for me that you had to be in detention for 6 months)," he told them. – Rappler.com