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Recto: Embassies in countries threatened by crisis need more funds

People watch a TV news program showing a file image of a missile launch by North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, May 21, 2017. AP/Ahn Young-joon, file

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Sunday called on the government to provide a “contingency fund” for Philippine embassies in conflict-threatened countries.

Recto said giving a “quick reaction” fund within the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs would allow the government to keep Filipinos out of harm in endangered areas.

“The operating budget of these embassies and consulates must be augmented. When there is a crisis to prepare for, their resources must be increased,” Recto said.

Recto cited that the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund of P400 million for 2017 “which is for all posts worldwide, is not enough.”

The senator cited that on top of the P400 million ATN, there is a P100 million Legal Assistance Fund for overseas Filipino workers in trouble with the law in their host countries.

Recto said the combined P500 million fund, “is mere four hours worth of all OFW remittances” in 2015, using as basis the $28.48 billion that OFWs sent home two years ago.

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“Yang P500 million, ‘yan ang remittance ng mga kababayan natin sa Hong Kong sa loob lamang ng apat na araw at limang oras. P500 million is also what OFWs in Italy remit to their homeland in just 12 days,” Recto said.

 “Half a billion pesos is our katas ng Saudi in less than 34 hours,” he added.

Philippine embassy in Seoul

In calling for the increase in DFA fund, Recto cited the case of the proposed budget of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean capital located 35 miles from its border with North Korea. He said for 2018, the embassy has a proposed budget of P109 million, or about $2 million for a whole year in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

“Peace time pa lang, kulang na ito dahil sa dami ng mga Pilipino doon. Ano pa kaya kung may krisis na?” Recto said of the tensions in the region.

The senator said the augmented budget for Seoul embassy will be justified by OFW remittances of about P1 billion a month to the Philippines.

“In 2016, they remitted back home P10.5 billion. In 2015, P10 billion, and close to P8 in 2014. That’s P28 billion in three years,” Recto said.

“So sa bawat P100 na padala nila, ang sukli ng pamahalaan sa pamamagitan ng consular services and aid ay P1 lamang,” he added.

Aside from the fund, Recto said “contingencies” must be arranged for OFWs before an emergency. He said the DFA should not just plan and issue advisories.

According to Recto, there are 57,082 documented and about 11,828 undocumented Filipinos in South Korea. —Rosette Adel

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