DFA not asking to restore original P19-B budget proposal–Romulo

September 10, 2010 9:14 am 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, Sept. 9 —The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in support of Malacanang's austerity program, accepts with grace the over 40 percent suggested slash down of its proposed budget for 2011 while "committing to continue delivering world class service to our people."

At budget hearings in Congress on Wednesday, DFA Secretary Alberto G. Romulo defended his proposed P19 billion budget to include increased allocation for the legal protection of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), but only P10.98 billion passed the austere mode of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Romulo wrote the House Committee on Appropriations that the DBM-recommended budget for DFA was “0.6 per cent of the total national budget of P11.645 trillion” and was “significantly lower than the previous years.”

The DFA considers itself the country’s premier government body, “with the best and the brightest people,” but it is also one of the highest users of foreign currencies to fund, among others, its diplomatic missions and the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) and the Legal Assistance (LAF) programs.

Romulo said both the ATN and the Legal Assistance funds “have also been reduced.”

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., however, noted in a radio interview that “other current programs for OFWs will continue.” He did not specify.

Romulo said his Department supports the austerity program of the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III since it aims to reduce the 2010 national budget deficit of P325 billion, the equivalent of 3.9 per cent of the GDP.

He agreed that the national budget “should be re-prioritized with emphasis on higher budget for education, health and social services.”

In the end, he said, highly-educated and highly skilled Filipinos would substantially cut down problems related to illegal recruitment, drug-and human trafficking in the name of bustier incomes from overseas work.

Lean and less dollar-gurgling foreign travel even for himself was one of Aquino’s key campaign agenda, which he still repeatedly reiterates.

His first foreign foray on Sept. 24 — in New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly, to preside at the 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Leaders Meeting as country coordinator for the Southeast Asian grouping , and to witness the signing of the US$ 434 million Millennium Challenge Account grant to the Philippines — is one such “necessary trip,” with only about a dozen people in the official entourage despite its multi-pronged nature.

Foreign-based advocates of the welfare of OFWS, however, decried the DBM move, saying they are outraged because lessened funding spelled doom for imprisoned OFWs, particularly those now in death row in the Middle East.

Philippine authorities plead the cases of distressed OFWs or even pay blood money to gain their freedom from prison or execution mainly through the ATN and LAF programs.

Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had made quick trips abroad to plead for such cases and won some during her term.

Still, Romulo said: ”DFA wholeheartedly supports the President in carrying out these policy objectives” of belt-tightening so that by 2011, "the budget deficit would be cut down by P290 billion or 3.2 per cent of GDP.”

Romulo knows whereof he spoke before the congressional committee. He was once a Budget Secretary and a Senator chairing its Finance Committee.

Specifically for the DFA, Romulo said that the planned opening of six Regional Consular Offices, the purchase and repair of properties abroad and car-refleeting will have to wait.

To congressmen who believed it their royal perk to be driven around in chauffeured embassy cars when abroad, Romulo apologized and said the courtesy can no longer be extended.

”A successful foreign policy begins at home. Since it is one of the pillars of our foreign policy to protect our overseas workers, then their protection should start at home, where our capacity to help them as at the highest,” he told the committee.

Among such domestic protection of workers, he suggested, are strengthened enforcement of the laws against human trafficking, illegal recruitment and use of drug mules in the foreign operation of drug syndicates.

”But the ultimate protection that we could give our OFWs is by arming them with education and skills. Illegal recruiters prey on the ignorant and unskilled. Human trafficking exploit the underage, the women, the weak.

"These are the ones who are most vulnerable to abuse, discrimination and maltreatment," he said before the committee.(PNA)

RMA/GJB

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