Overseas Filipino workers, always touted as the country’s new heroes and whose remittances provide the lifeline to save the bankrupt economy, were expecting “change” under President Benigno Aquino III.
However, Migrante International, a global alliance of OFWs, says that in his proposed General Appropriations Act for 2011, President Aquino seeks to allot P27 million ($612,000) for the Department of Foreign Affairs’ assistance to OFWs.
Under the Migrant Workers Act, the government is required to allocate at least P100 million ($2.26-million) every year for this purpose. This figure is already a paltry sum by most standards considering the big and growing number of OFWs, and the endless parade of stories of abuses suffered by OFWs worldwide.
In many parts of the Middle East, many OFWs face charges before courts without the benefit of a lawyer. A TV network recently exposed the conditions of Filipinos in a Saudi Arabia “repatriation center” which looked like a jail. Pets in most places live better lives. It is thus an affront to national dignity and a violation of rights of each OFW that the government practically neglects them with a budget that is too small.
Aquino is also worse than his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who left office with a P50 million ($1.13-million) budget for OFWs – or half of what the law states. Aquino cut this in half.
To compare, Aquino is asking Congress for a P976.2-million ($22.13-million) for his Communications Operations Group.
It is insulting too considering the fact that the Philippines government itself milks each prospective OFW a long list of fees even before he/she leaves the country. Migrante claims the government scores P33 billion ($748.209 million) each year from OFWs. Although officially exempt from taxes, the government is guilty of taxing OFWs just the same with these all sorts of fees that are touted to be for their welfare. But what to they get in return? Just count the difference between what the government rakes in in OFW fees and what Aquino wants to give back in the form of OFW assistance.
Those who were impressed by Aquino’s inaugural address where he promised change from a leadership that has no heart for the suffering of the people are now looking back in anger and disappointment.
This is not change. President Aquino wants to give OFWs “loose change”.