By Neil Allende
PASAY CITY—A FOREIGN Affairs executive bared that Filipino workers going abroad through informal channels and encounters problems are causing financial ills for government.
Cresente Relacion, executive director of the Office Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, a Department of Foreign Affairs adjunct, said his unit has been experiencing budget deficits for the past three years because of increased repatriation.
Relacion said these workers are mostly undocumented or acquired jobs abroad without passing through government agencies processing overseas deployment.
The Department is experiencing a deficit because the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration only takes care of documented workers, according to Relacion.
The embassies and the consular offices of the Philippines abroad, however, have to be open for every Filipino in need of assistance abroad, documented or not, he explained.
Because of this openness, Relacion said the department dips into its Assistance to Nationals budget as well as in its Legal Assistance Fund.
He said they have asked Congress to approve the increase of its ATN budget to P100 million from P51 million and P30 million from P15 million for its LAF.
The ATN, Relacion said, is used to address the needs of overseas Filipinos in distress. It covers repatriation; medical expenses; migration fees for overstaying Filipinos; and, basic necessities of those caught in emergencies or are detained.
Likewise, Relacion said the department uses this fund to provide consular services such as dispatches, attendance in court hearings, payment of translation fees, and financial assistance to Filipinos facing legal cases abroad.
The Legal Assistance Fund, meanwhile, is used to cover legal expenses of overseas Filipino workers in litigation. These expenses, Relacion said, include court fees and lawyers’ fees. The payment of blood money, to note, is not covered by the fund.
Relacion said most of the money goes to assisting undocumented Filipino workers abroad since most of those who get into trouble –85 to 95 percent of them– didn’t pass through formal channels.
Most of these Filipinos, Relacion added, are in the Middle East, China, and Malaysia.
“The DFA is only the receiving point of the problems. Many OFWs continue to use tourist visas or go to unscrupulous agencies,” Relacion said.
Because of the general right to travel, international migration has had problems “recognizing Filipinos posing as tourists,” he added.
RELACION said over the past three years, the department has witnessed an increase in the number of repatriation cases involving Filipinos.
The increase he linked to the proportional upward spike in cases of abductions and wars as well as the provision of amnesty to undocumented workers in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Kuwait.
Relacion said the increase was felt after 2004 when the ATN still posted a P5-million surplus from an P8-million surplus in 2003.
However, by 2005, Relacion said they overshot by P17 million the ATN budget to P69 million. He added supplemental budgets for 2006 and 2007 were already requested from the national government.
But Relacion fears the funds would fail to meet the several cases the foreign affairs department is handling currently.
He noted that the DFA is handling 28 death penalty cases: nine in Saudi Arabia, ten in Malaysia, four in Kuwait, three in China, one in Brunei, and one in the United Sates.
He said that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone, lawyers charge up to US$100,000 (P4.406 million at US$1=P44.06) for death row cases. Non-capital offenses allow lawyers to charge up to US$3,500 (P154,210) in fees, Relacion said.
He said the embassies and consulates, especially in Middle East countries, have to hire legal assistance at the earliest stage of the case.
“We have to assess as early as possible if we have to get a lawyer [for the] lower court or [for the] upper court,” Relacion explained.
Lower court hearings are usually more expensive, he claims.
Most Filipinos in Middle East, he said, are in death row for murder, while those in China and Malaysia are involved in drug cases. Filipinos, he said, are also getting involved in trafficking in Kuala Lumpur.
Data from Relacion’s office reveal the number of Filipinos repatriated home have been increasing since 2003.
From January to August this year alone, some 18,753 Filipinos were flown home compared to the full-year number of 17,889 last year, 3,775 two years ago, 6,890 in 2004, and 6,114 a year before.
This means some 74 Filipinos were being repatriated every day for the first this year compared to 50 a day last year. The nine-month figure has even exceeded by eight the number of Filipinos repatriated if last year’s figure were compared to the period.
Despite these, Relacion said the figure could go higher because of the difficulty to keep track of undocumented Filipino workers.
“A Filipino should not go into adventurism. They should respect the laws of the country,” he said.