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After mounting repatriation flights for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday, October 8, that the P1-billion fund it is tapping to bring Filipinos home is now down to only around P20 million.
Both Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr and Undersecretary Sarah Arriola gave the update during the agency’s budget hearing at the Senate, as they warned funds are nearly depleted while thousands of Filipinos remain stranded overseas.
Still, the DFA gave assurances that it is expecting an additional P820 million to augment its Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund used to help facilitate the repatriation of Filipinos. The funds form part of additional funding under the Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) law.
“Waiting for SARO (special allotment release order) is P820 million for the augmentation of the ATN fund under the Bayanihan 2 program and for the legal assistance fund [worth] P200 million. That would just about do it,” Locsin said.
Arriola said the DFA is waiting for the Department of Budget and Management to release the funds, after which repatriation efforts will continue.
Locsin earlier said the agency realigned several funds under its budget, such as those that were supposed to go towards the retrofitting of the DFA’s headquarters along Roxas Boulevard, to ensure there would be enough funds to repatriate all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the pandemic.
Since starting repatriation efforts in February, the DFA has facilitated the return of some 208,000 OFWs as of Thursday.
Locsin said the agency anticipates there would be at least 50,000 to 60,000 more Filipinos to be repatriated, though other figures also suggest there could be as many as 177,000. – Rappler.com