According to Migrante Sectoral Partylist president Connie Bragas-Regalado, they found the DFA’s justification for the millions of unutilized legal funds lacking and unsound.
The DFA attributed the unused funds to a clause in the Migrant Workers Act stipulating a "ceiling" to the amount of assistance that is allowed per OFW in distress. It reported that only 196 OFWs had availed of the fund since 2011 to August of this year.
"We find this justification unacceptable and extremely irrational. Provided that there is a ceiling, the number of OFWs in distress and in dire need of legal assistance is definitely more than 196 since 2011," Bragas-Regalado said.
She said there are at least 7,000 OFWs in jails abroad and 123 OFWs on death row. "The common occurrence is they get arrested and undergo investigation without any representation or legal assistance from the PH embassy. Because of this, they are deprived of due process and go straight to jail without any legal assistance from the government," Bragas-Regalado said.
Bragas-Regalado said that OFWs who died under mysterious circumstances were also not given legal assistance. "Since 2010, 15 more unresolved cases of OFWs who died under mysterious circumstances were brought to us. All of their cases suggest foul play. When their remains were repatriated, there were also indications of organ trafficking. Their cases remain uninvestigated and unresolved to this day."
"So how can the DFA now justify these idled funds? Ang totoo, kulang na kulang na nga ang pondo, bakit may natitira pa at hindi nagagamit? This is a concrete example of the PH government’s criminal neglect that endanger the lives and welfare of OFWs."
The Migrant Workers Act allots P100 million to the LAF (legal assistance fund). In 2010 and 2011, legal funds for OFWs were cut into half. In 2012, following protests from OFWs around the world, Congress reinstated P100 million into the LAF.
Migrante Sectoral Partylist called on Congress to increase the legal assistance fund (LAF) under the DFA budget. ###