Philippine embassies and consulates in the Middle East are expected to be able to respond to the needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress with President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of P1 billion in additional funding for their respective Assistance to Nationals (ATN) programs, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Tuesday.
The additional funding, according to Cayetano, will allow Filipino diplomats particularly in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to better serve distressed Filipinos working in these countries.
Distressed nationals are defined under Republic Act 8042 as those who have valid medical, psychological or legal assistance problems requiring treatment, hospitalization, counseling, legal representation or any other kind of intervention with authorities in the country where they are found.
Together with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Office of the Labor Attache, the ATN Section of the Philippine Embassy assists Filipinos in resolution of their cases and, if applicable, in their repatriation to the Philippines.
“Our diplomats cannot be expected to quickly respond to any request for assistance from our kababayan [countrymen]in the Middle East and in other parts of the world if they cannot be provided with the resources they need to be able to do so,” Cayetano said in a statement.
Sarah Lou Arriola, Foreign Affairs undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, has informed Cayetano that the DFA has already spent almost 60 percent of the P400 million allocated by Congress to support ATN operations abroad for this year.
In her consultation with some foreign service posts in the Middle East, she was told that they could not effectively respond to ATN cases because of budget constraints.
Cayetano said the additional funding could address limitations being faced by ambassadors and consul generals as they would be provided more resources to serve Filipinos in their respective areas.
“I would like to assure them that they will have all the support they would need to let them accomplish the instructions of the President for them to better serve and protect our kababayan there,” he added.
Arriola said the increase in ATN funding would enable the DFA to fund not just the usual rescues and repatriations but also to open new shelters, hire more translators, interpreters and other personnel and purchase equipment needed by various Philippine posts.
“Our ATN budget will be utilized to the fullest to allow our posts to respond more quickly and more effectively,” she added.