DFA budget cut by P1.7 billion in 2011; escort service for congressmen affected

- Jess Diaz () - September 9, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A sizeable reduction in the 2011 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will adversely affect what some lawmakers called the department’s “escort” service for members of Congress traveling abroad.

“With the budget reduced by about P1.7 billion, some of our priority projects will all have to go to its barest minimum,” DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo told the House appropriations committee yesterday.

“That is why, even if we wanted to open six new regional consular offices, that will have to go. We wanted to strengthen our frontline services with additional personnel. This will have to go as well,” he said.

“Our car refleeting will have to wait. This means that members of Congress will have to bear with us if the cars that will fetch them at the airport will break down in the middle of the street,” he told congressmen.

Whenever they travel abroad, senators and House members often call on DFA personnel posted in their destinations to welcome them at the airport and drive them to their hotels and around town.

The department’s personnel also accompany them in their shopping activities.In some cases, they are asked to escort the lawmakers’ wives.

If legislators are not happy with the diplomatic officers’ escort service, it is taken against them when budget consideration time comes or when they appear before the Commission on Appointments for their promotions.

One former congressman who had a problem with a car he bought from an ambassador even raised the matter in a DFA budget hearing.

Romulo said funds for assistance to distressed overseas Filipino workers would also have to be reduced.

“This will have an effect on our capacity to protect OFWs abroad who are in distress, and facing prosecution or on death row,” he said.

“Our proposed budget for 2011 (P10.98 billion) is much less than what is needed. But it is a bitter pill we have to take if we are to reduce the budget deficit,” he said.

“However, I believe that much can be done at home to compensate for our reduced budget. A successful foreign policy begins at home.”

“Since it is a foreign policy to protect our overseas workers, then their protection should start at home where our capacity to help them is at the highest,” Romulo stressed.

He said he and his department’s personnel recognize President Aquino’s spending priorities and the need to bring down the huge budget deficit, projected to hit P325 billion this year and P290 billion next year.

“That is why we fully support a mere austere budget for 2011,” he said.

Later yesterday, the appropriations committee, chaired by Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, tackled the P976-million budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) headed by Secretary Herminio Coloma.

Coloma’s office replaced the Office of the Press Secretary. Lawmakers asked why President Aquino had to designate three persons as his spokesmen.

These are Coloma, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, and former broadcaster Ricky Carandang, who heads a newly created agency, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office.

Coloma said the three of them have different job descriptions and could all speak for the President.

He said they make sure that they consult each other so they will not speak in “discordant voices.”

He added the Aquino administration is bent on privatizing sequestered Channel 9 and IBC 13.

On the “midnight” joint venture agreement former Philippine Information Agency chief Conrado Limcaoco entered into with businessman Reghis Romero’s R-11 Builders for the development of the four-hectare Broadcast City lot in Diliman, Quezon City, Coloma said this is now being reviewed.

“We are conducting due diligence on it,” he said.

The agreement was finalized before the Arroyo administration ended last June 30.

Limcaoco had supervision over the two sequestered TV networks.

On the hostage crisis, Coloma said Mr. Aquino did not issue explicit instructions to restrict media coverage of the Aug. 23 incident as these might be misconstrued as efforts of the administration to limit press freedom.

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