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Thursday, July 03, 2008

RP Gov’t Hikes Funding for OFW-related Agencies

By Ruben Jeffrey A. Asuncion

QUEZON CITY–TWO government agencies expected to help overseas Filipino workers received increases in funding for this year, budget records showed.

The 2008 General Appropriations Act bared that assistance projects for OFWs by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs got the increments the agencies proposed in last year’s budget hearings.

The labor department got a P33.3-million increase in allocated funds for its “Social Protection Program,” where the budget item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers” falls under.

The program was given P383.3 million this year, up nearly ten percent from its P350 million budget last year.

In addition, the labor department’s “Emergency Repatriation Program,” an item absent from its budget last year, was given P50 million. Another P50 million was allocated for the one-year-old National Reintegration Center for OFWs.

The center was formed during then-Labor Secretary Arturo Brion’s watch. It is expected to provide economic and psycho-social reintegration services to returning OFWs and to OFW families.

Another attached agency, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration also received increases in its budget. The POEA’s “Workers Welfare Assistance and Overseas Placement Services” line item received a budget of P39.5 million. This was nearly two-percent higher than its P38.8-million allocation last year.

A similar increase has also been made in the POEA’s line item “Adjudication Services” with P28.5 million for this year, compared with P27.6 million for last year.

But while these Manila-centric units got majority of the labor department’s total P6.3-billion pie, DOLE’s offices in the regions got a measly share for “workers’ amelioration and welfare services”.

In addition, these regions, where most prospective and former OFWs and OFW families live, saw budget for these services reduced by nearly P3 million to P36.6 million from the P38.2-million budget allocation last year.

In contrast, the labor department’s allocation for personal services (PS) continued to see year-on-year increases as against, for one, maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
For the item “Workers Protection and Welfare Service to Overseas Filipino Workers,” for example, around P207.6 million for personal services was allocated for this year.

This amount is nearly double than the P168.2 million allotted for maintenance and operating costs for this year.

Last year, the program received P202.7 million for PS while its MOOE was allocated only P145.3 million.

Over all, the labor department’s budget this year increased by 28.24 percent to P6.271 billion from nearly P5 billion in 2007. POEA’s budget, which is part of the total budget, also increased to P238.9 million this year, from P231.6 million in 2007.

POEA’s budget is merely 20 percent of the total collection of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, if OWWA was able to collect the $25 from 3,000 OFWs leaving every day.

Since it is a government-owned and controlled corporation, the OWWA is excluded from the annual GAA and relies mainly on the membership fees being paid by departing OFWs, and not from taxpayers’ money. The US$25 contributions are for the provision of welfare and economic services to OFWs.

Assuming the a million OFWs left last year, OWWA’s coffer would be around a billion pesos at an average exchange rate of US$1=P42. That amount would just be 17 percent of the labor department’s budget.

OWWA’s Board of Trustees provides the annual budgets, which must be requested to them.
In 2006, says a Commission on Audit report, OWWA spent some PhP910.715 million while earning P2.062 billion.

Another agency tasked with the welfare of overseas Filipinos is the Department of Foreign Affairs, which also received an increased budget.

The DFA’s provision on the “Implementation of RA 8042” was increased by 170 percent to P236.7 million this year from only P87.7 million in 2007.

Being funded under this category are the Legal Assistance Fund for the litigation cases of OFWs and the Assistance-to-Nationals Fund. The latter is the department’s funds for the repatriation of OFWs.

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