Department of Migrant Workers

Lawmakers want bigger budget for first year of migrant workers department

Michelle Abad
Lawmakers want bigger budget for first year of migrant workers department

About 22 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) based in Afghanistan, arrived at the Manila International Airport Terminal 2 from London on August 25, 2021. The OFWs are part of the group who escaped after the Taliban took control of the government of Afghanistan. Rappler

Members of Congress question why the P250 million allotted in 2022 for the OFW Hospital in Pampanga is slashed to a mere P13 million for 2023

MANILA, Philippines – Several lawmakers in the House of Representatives proposed to increase the funds to be allotted for the new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) in 2023 during the department’s budget hearing on Thursday, September 8.

The congressmen doubted if the proposed budget approved by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the National Expenditure Plan was enough.

The DBM proposed P15.2 billion for the DMW – P3.5 billion for the Office of the Secretary, and P11.7 billion for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

The law creating the DMW turns the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration into the DMW, and absorbs and merges all offices related to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare departments. The OWWA would remain as an attached agency.

OWWA chief Arnell Ignacio reported that the agency used 99.99% of its P17.36-billion budget for 2021. But the DBM has proposed to slash billions from it.

“Considering the many agencies under the wing of the DMW… We can see that the P3.5-billion budget for the DMW is so much insufficient considering the multidimensional nature of its core mandates involving labor, foreign relations, training, education, as well as its demanding regulatory responsibilities,” said OFW Representative Marissa Magsino in a mix of Filipino and English.

The DMW originally asked the DBM for P7.93 billion, excluding the budget for OWWA. The 2023 appropriation will be the DMW’s very first budget since the agency was created in December 2021.

The DMW, while having top officials like Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople and her undersecretaries, has yet to be fully constituted. It is expected to be fully set up in 2023 once it has a working budget, a staffing pattern, and an approved implementing rules and regulations for the law creating it.

OFWs ‘deserve better’

DMW undersecretaries Hans Cacdac and Anthonette Allones outlined some ways the DMW planned to improve the existing system for OFW welfare, such as the digitalization of services through an OFW app, 24/7 service of foreign service posts, and increasing capacity of legal assistance.

At the same time, Allones acknowledged the limited fiscal space to be allotted for national agencies. She said the agency was crafting a strategy to forge partnerships with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations because “many are willing to help.”

Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas juxtaposed the economic boost the Philippines gets from OFWs, and the amount that the government would be giving back if the NEP was approved the way it was.

‘Yung budget, parang 0.28% of the total NEP, 0.06% share to GDP (gross domestic product). Ikumpara po natin sa 8.9% na contribution ng OFWs sa GDP natin. So sa remittances po, malaki, tapos ganyan yung ibabalik natin sa ating mga overseas workers? Nakakalungkot po na ganyan,” said Brosas.

(The budget is around 0.28% of the total NEP, 0.06% share to the GDP. Let’s compare it to the 8.9% contribution of OFWs to our GDP. So our remittances are huge, but this is how much we give back to our overseas workers? That’s sad.)

OFWs sent a record $31.4 billion (P1.59 trillion) in cash remittances in 2021, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

“We deserve way better services and support from the national government. Parang ang hirap po ng kalagayan na ganito, na hindi natin malingap ‘yung mga kababayan natin, lalo na yung mga biktima ng abuso at karahasan sa ating bayan,” she added. (It’s difficult to deal with this, that we won’t be able to care for our countrymen, especially the victims of abuse and violence.)

OFW hospital: From P200 million to P13 million

Allones reported that the DBM approved just P13 million for the OFW Hospital in Pampanga, a far cry from the P250 million approved for it in 2022.

Quezon 2nd District Representative David Suarez, a former governor of the province, highlighted the need to increase the budget of the hospital.

“Coming from a chief executive perspective… I know how financially consuming it is to run a hospital. And I’m telling you P13 million won’t even last a week to run a hospital,” he said.

Citing Secretary Ople, Allones said one “sustainable” policy direction for now was to partner with existing tertiary hospitals to devote OFW wards instead of establishing new infrastructure.

Meanwhile, OFW rights group Migrante International denounced the budget cuts in the NEP. They demanded P10 billion in cash assistance to repatriated OFWs and their families as temporary relief due to the economic crisis, and to provide more budget in the OWWA for more benefits and services beyond the OWWA welfare fund.

They also asked for more budget to set up additional overseas labor offices in countries with high concentrations of OFWs.

“We assert our rights to be involved and be heard on the government’s allocation of funds for the benefit and services of overseas Filipinos who are constantly required to pay mandatory fees from various government agencies,” said Migrante. – Rappler.com

$1 = P50.774 (Exchange rate on December 31, 2021 from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas)

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.