The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should allow the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to use its P13-billion contingent fund to repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon made the call on Thursday, March 18, as he expressed frustration at the DBM for withholding the budget and reserving it instead for the creation of new departments.
A DBM official told the Senate Labor and Employment Committee during its hearing on the various bills calling for the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFIL) that the contingent fund was intended as a source of money in case existing agency funds are not sufficient to fund the creation of new departments such as the DOFIL.
“That is not a very sound policy. We would prioritize first the creation of new departments and their funding rather than allocate the necessary to bring home our kababayans,” Drilon lamented during the Senate hearing.
“As a matter of policy, the national government, through the General Appropriations Act, should answer to the repatriation program, because this is a small favor that we can do for all the contributions of our OFWs. We should provide in the budget funds for the repatriation of OFWs,” the minority leader stressed.
OWWA, he noted, has been crying out for help to repatriate around 500,000 returning OFWs heavily impacted by the pandemic.
The OWWA had already requested the DBM for a budgetary augmentation of P9.8-billion to cover repatriation costs, which include quarantine expenses, transport, and lodging expenses.
According to OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac, the agency’s budget would only last up to April or May this year.
Drilon warned approximately 500,000 OFWs would be left stranded in various parts of the world if the government fails to provide funding for their repatriation.
“As my colleague Senator Nancy Binay said, ‘there’s P13-billion for DOFIL, but no budget for repatriation.’ That is indeed unacceptable and morally wrong,” he stressed.
Drilon then asked Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles to recommend to source out the much-needed P9.8 billion from the contingent fund.
Nograles said he will discuss this with the pertinent departments.
The senator noted the contingent fund is managed by the DBM and releases from the contingent fund are subject to approval by the President.