By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — As the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) was crying out for help to bring home Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon was appalled to find out that the P13 billion contingent fund is being reserved for the creation of new departments instead of using it to fund the government’s repatriation program.
In a statement, Drilon lamented the hesitancy of the government to tap into the P13 billion contingency funds for the government’s repatriation program.
The contingent fund, as admitted by a resource person from the Department of Budget and Management, was intended as a source of funds in case existing agency funds are not sufficient to fund the creation of new departments such as the proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos.
“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 a Senate hearing on the proposed creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos.
“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,” Drilon said.
The OWWA had already requested the budget department for a budgetary augmentation of P9.8 billion to cover the repatriation of around 500,000 more OFWs, which included quarantine expenses, transport, and lodging expenses. OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said their budget will only last up to April or May this year.
Instead of using the trust fund of OWWA, Drilon said the government should authorize the use of the contingent fund to repatriate around 500,000 returning overseas Filipino workers.
“It will leave around approximately 500,000 OFWs stranded in various parts of the world if we do not provide funding for their repatriation,” Drilon said in a statement.
“As my colleague Senator Nancy Binay said, ‘may P13 bilyon para sa DOFIL, pero walang budget sa repatriation. That is indeed unacceptable and morally wrong,” he stressed.
Drilon asked Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles to recommend to source out the much-needed P9.8 billion from the contingent fund.
The Cabinet Secretary responded that he has to discuss this with the pertinent departments.
The contingent fund is managed by the Department of Budget and Management and releases from the contingent fund are subject to approval by the President of the Philippines, Drilon noted. (AI/MTVN)