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MANILA, Philippines – At least three senators are seeking an increase in the proposed P13.75-billion 2024 budget for the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), as crucial welfare projects for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may be affected should the department’s realignment request be denied.
In the Senate plenary hearing for the DMW’s 2024 budget on Monday, November 13, senators Joel Villanueva and Raffy Tulfo, as well as DMW budget sponsor Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, sought to add more funds to the department’s second annual budget since its creation in 2021.
In 2023, the DMW had a budget of P15.8 billion. From the 2024 National Expenditure Program’s P15.3-billion allotment for the DMW, this was initially slashed to P12.75 billion in the general appropriations bill (GAB) transmitted from the House of Representatives – almost a P2.6-billion cut.
The Senate’s committee version then restored around P1 billion to both the DMW and its attached agency, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), but the department said this was not enough, according to Tulfo, who requested P5.1 billion.
The P5.1 billion comes from a requested realignment from the OWWA’s emergency repatriation fund, which was not well-utilized in 2023 due to the nature of the fund being limited to COVID-19-related repatriations.
“We’re hoping from the DMW…[that] we can restore this so it can be put into good use, especially now that the department is on its second year, [with] still a lot of challenges, still a lot of things to be done, especially the organization of the new migrant workers offices (MWOs) in different parts of the world,” said Ejercito.
The DMW, soon to be on its second fully operational year, continues its transition process as offices and functions from the labor and foreign affairs departments are transferred to its jurisdiction. MWOs, for instance, used to be known as Philippine overseas labor offices, and were under the Department of Labor and Employment.
Villanueva also said the restoration of over P1 billion was not enough for the department’s needs.
“Kaya po tayo naririto sapagkat gusto natin siguruhin na magagawa, matutugunan ng ating departamento ang pangangailangan ng ating mga migrant workers…. Kaya ba natin ito lunukin at sabihin proud tayo na ito ‘yung binigay natin?” he said, asking Ejercito what programs would be affected should the DMW’s realignment request be denied.
(The reason we are here is because we want to ensure that the department can respond to the needs of our migrant workers. Can we really say we are proud that this is what we’re giving them?)
According to Ejercito, the following are the programs that would be affected if only P3.7 billion out of the more than P5 billion being requested for realignment would be granted, and the respective amounts needed for each:
- Expansion and improvement of MWOs, in light of the transfer of Assistance to Nationals (ATN) functions for OFWs from the Department of Foreign Affairs – P1 billion
- Provision of food and other basic necessities for distressed OFWs and their families – P100 million
- Hiring of additional local hires to perform ATN functions, including training – P500 million
- Operational expenses for national calamities, armed conflicts, civil strife, and other incidents in host countries – P250 million
- Assistance to OFWs affected by Philippine government suspensions, deferment of deployment, and/or host country regulations such as the suspension of issuance of new work and entry visas – P250 million
- Cancer assistance and relief for OFWs – P100 million
- Creation of a migrant workers welfare services bureau – P6.32 million
- Additional budget for general management and support, training, and the offices of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries – P55 million
Bigger budget amid global unrest
Tulfo, who chairs the Senate migrant workers committee, highlighted the need for more funds for the department given the crisis in Israel and Palestine.
He acknowledged the initial support of P100,000 from the DMW and OWWA for repatriates, as well as additional care packages and medical checkups from the social welfare and health departments, respectively, but questioned how far this assistance can take the displaced OFWs.
“While most of them are relieved that they are out of harm’s way, at hindi na nagtatago sa mga bomb shelters, bakat na bakat sa kanilang mga mukha ang pangamba – ang pangambang paano magsisimula uli (and no longer hiding in bomb shelters, their faces give away the anxiety of how to start over again),” said Tulfo.
“What will happen in the next 100 days of their lives, considering that they’re jobless but still have to feed their families and continue sending their kids to school?” he added.
As of Monday, the Philippine government has repatriated at least 222 OFWs from Israel. A few dozen non-OFWs from Gaza, particularly Filipino-Palestinians, have made their way back to the country as well after a long-negotiated Rafah border crossing.
Tulfo also noted in his speech during the budget deliberation that he had only put emphasis on the Israel-Palestine situation, and that thousands of other OFWs in neighboring and “equally vulnerable” territories such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt may be at risk if tensions spread around the region.
“Huwag naman po sana lumaki pa at magtagal ang giyera, but it is important we’re ready logistically. We have to have resources in place para may kabuhayan pa rin ang ating mga OFWs pagbalik ng Pilipinas,” he said.
(Hopefully, the war does not expand and go on for longer, but it is important for us to be ready logistically. We have to have resources in place so that our OFWs can still have sources of livelihood when they come back to the Philippines.)
‘Unacceptable’ House version
In a statement on Saturday, November 11, OFW rights group Migrante International slammed the House of Representatives for approving a GAB that “increases the government budget for labor export while decreasing its budget for services for OFWs.”
“The OWWA budget cut only means that the government is abandoning OFW services to OFW themselves. OFWs are left alone to pay for services that we need and avail through our OWWA contributions even as we also pay for other state exactions and our families pay various taxes,” said Migrante.
The group called the budget proposed by the House “unacceptable,” especially since the following programs, which they believe support a labor export policy, received increases: licensing and regulation services, labor migration policy and international cooperation program, and maritime research and skills competency program. – Rappler.com