Senators favored on Monday, October 11, the inclusion of a special provision in the 2022 national budget that would prohibit the Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) from collecting “unauthorized” registration fees.
This, after the officials of the CFO failed to satisfy lawmakers on the legal basis of its collection of P400 in registration fee from emigrant Filipinos who want to benefit from its programs.
During the Senate finance subcommittee’s deliberation on the P139.133-million proposed budget of the commission for next year, Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, inquired about the legality of the registration fee being imposed by the CFO.
CFO Secretary Francisco Acosta deferred to administrative and finance director Mario Garcia, who in turn passed the buck to another official.
This irked Senator Joel Villanueva, who presides the subcommittee hearing.
“Nakakatatlong pasahan na kayo ng bola, pwede bang isa na lang ‘yong sasagot (You have passed the ball three times, can’t someone respond)?” said Villanueva, who likened the manner of response to a basketball game.
“You can’t just collect because you want to collect,” he pointed out.
Garcia said the CFO charges a registration fee P400 for Filipino emigrants and other clients departing the country, “and we have been asking the Board of Commissioners to increase [the amount] because lahat nag-increase na (all other amounts have increased)”.
He cited a resolution issued by the CFO board providing for the collection of the registration fee.
But Angara said the resolution should also be based on a law.
“Again, the question remains unanswered. Like the OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), they charge, I think $25, for OFWs who depart [the country], and that goes toward an OWWA trust fund. That answers for repatriation, training of OFWs when they lose their job and they return — and the basis of that is the OWWA Charter,” Angara said.
“The reason why these people are leaving is because they have no money and they have no jobs here in the Philippines…yet we are imposing all these [fees] on them,” he added.
Garcia, instead, argued that they have been receiving unqualified opinion from the Commission on Audit (COA).
“You know the money that have been given to us, we are given an unqualified opinion [on it] — we spend the money in a very nice way. Not many agencies are given unqualified opinion by the COA,” he told the senators.
CFO migrant integration director and program implementer Ivy Miravalles then said that the Batas Pambansa (BP) No. 79, which created the commission in June, 1980, was the board’s basis for the resolution.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, said no provision in the BP 79 authorizes the collection of the P400 registration fee, or any other fees.
Drilon likewise observed the lack of a report from the CFO on the outcomes of the registrations.
From 2019’s 65,122 registered Filipino emigrants, registrations went down in 2020 to 15,756, the CFO said in its presentation. As of June this year, 6,912 emigrants have registered.
This is on top of other registration figures for other CFO programs, which include peer counseling, marriage counseling, country familiarization seminars, and pre-departure orientation seminars, among others.
Acosta said they would just submit to the Senate panel their basis for the collection.
“Right now, we couldn’t see any reason why CFO would have that power to collect any fee. Pahirap po ito (This is another burden for our people),” he said.
It was at this point that Drilon proposed the insertion of a special provision in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill “that the collection should not continue”.
“Because it is not found in any law, anyway. This appears to be unauthorized,” the former labor and justice secretary said.
Villanueva said he and other senators also agree with Drilon’s suggestion.
CFO’s proposed 2022 budget was lower than its P157 million allocation for this year.
An agency under the Office of the President, Acosta said that their programs also include partnerships with organizations abroad to assist Filipinos overseas, although Villanueva said these also form part of the functions of other government agencies.