MANILA, Philippines — The P13-billion contingent fund under the 2021 national budget should be used to fund the repatriation of 500,000 more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the pandemic, some senators said Thursday.
During a Senate labor committee hearing, the senator was given the impression that the P13-billion contingent fund is being “preserved” as a source of additional funding for the proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil).
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was the first to express concern about the government’s purported “hesitancy” to use the P13-billion contingent fund to fund OFW repatriation.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is seeking an additional P9.8 billion to fund its OFW repatriation operations, with 500,000 more Filipino migrant workers projected to return to the Philippines as the pandemic danger remains.
READ: OWWA running out of funds
During the hearing, a DBM representative said the department has yet to “explore the option” of using the P13 billion for the government’s repatriation program. The fund is being considered a source of funding for the proposed DOFil if current appropriations are inadequate.
“Are you saying that you rather preserve this contingent fund for expenses in the creation of a new department rather than repatriating our OFWs?” Drilon, a former labor secretary, asked.
“That is not a very sound policy. We would prioritize first the creation of new departments and their funding, expand our bureaucracy rather than allocate the necessary to bring home our kababayans?” he added.
Instead of using the OWWA trust fund, Drilon suggested that the government allow the use of the contingent fund to repatriate OFWs.
The contingent fund is managed by the DBM and releases from the said fund are subject to the president’s approval, Drilon noted.
“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,” he added.
Senator Joel Villanueva, chairperson of the Senate labor panel, also said OWWA’s request for additional funding can be tapped from the contingent fund.
“Is the contingent fund, na may P13 billion, pasok ba diyan sa item na yan yung hinihingi ng OWWA? Ako para sa akin, clearly pasok po diyan,” Villanueva said.
(Can the contingent fund, which amounts to P13 billion, accommodate the request of OWWA? Because for me, clearly, it can.)
Joining in on the discussion, Senator Nancy Binay said she got the impression that there seems to be funding set aside for a new department but apparently none for OFWs’ repatriation.
“Ang pagkaintindi ko ngayon that there’s P13 billion set aside budget para sa pagke-create ng DOFil pero wala tayong contingency fund na pwede gamitin natin sa repatriation ng ating mga OFWs? I hope I am wrong,” Binay said.
(From what I understand, it seems that we have P13 billion set aside for the creation of DOFil, but we have no contingency fund that we can tap from to finance the repatriation of our OFWs.)
“That is really unacceptable. We will not accept that. I don’t think that’s the intention of our friends in DBM, pero ‘yan ang dating sa ating lahat [but that’s our impression],” Villanueva then commented.
Repatriation ‘top priority’
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, however, assured the senators that the government’s “top priority” is to repatriate OFWs in need of assistance.
“The contingency fund by its nature is for any contingency because we cannot foresee what will happen,” he said.
He surmised that what the DBM had meant when it said that the P13-billion contingent fund is being considered as possible funding for the new department was that it was “one of the options.”
“Surely, it is not a priority option, perhaps [it is] in the context that it is one of the options but not a priority option,” he added.
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