SAN Juan City Rep. JV Ejercito Estrada urged President Benigno Aquino III to allocate more funds intended for legal assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are facing criminal charges in their respective host countries.
Ejercito Estrada made the call following reports that some 3,000 OFWs around the world are facing criminal charges, ranging from immigration-related cases, murder, theft, to drug trafficking.
In China alone, 78 Filipinos are reported to have been convicted for drug trafficking and are awaiting death sentences.
The young legislator, who is the vice chairman of the House labor and employment committee, noted that a measly P60 million was appropriated this year for the legal assistance fund (LAF) that could be used by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to bail out OFWs who are in conflict with the law in at least 68 host countries.
“I cannot imagine the fact that our OFWs whom we refer to as the ‘modern-day heroes’ are getting less out of their contribution to our country,” Ejercito Estrada said in exasperation.
“If not for the remittances of these hardworking OFWs, our economy could have been in the red. And, yet, the present government seems lukewarm in attending to their needs, especially in terms of providing legal assistance to those who are locked in legal battle in their respective host countries,” he stressed.
Under Republic Act (RA) 10022 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, the government is under obligation to allot P100 million for legal services to migrant workers and overseas Filipinos in distress. The allocation is coursed through the DFA, which is mandated to provide legal assistance to OFWs.
Of the amount, P50 million would come from the Contingency Fund of the President, P30 million from the Contingency Fund of the President Social Fund, and P20 million from the Welfare Fund for Overseas Workers. An additional P30 million is taken from the General Appropriations Act.
Records from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) showed that OFWs have paid more than P1 billion in membership contribution, as every outbound worker is required to pay $25 for their protection.
For the whole of 2012, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected that OFW remittances would reach $24 billion, 19.4 percent higher than the level registered a year ago. These remittances fuel consumption spending which is considered the backbone of Philippine economy.
January 16, 2013