THE capability of the embassies and consulates in the Middle East to respond to the needs of Filipinos in distress is likely to improve in 2018 after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the P1 billion additional funding for their respective assistance to nationals (ATN) programs, Foreign Affair Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday.
The additional funding will allow Filipino diplomats, particularly in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to better serve distressed Filipinos working in these countries.
Distress nationals are defined under Republic Act (RA) 8042, as those with valid medical, psychological or legal assistance problems requiring treatment, hospitalization, counseling, legal representation or any other kind of intervention with the authorities in the country where they are found.
Together with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Office of the Labor Attache, the ATN section of the Philippine Embassy, assists Filipino nationals in the 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 kababayans (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.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola has informed Cayetano that the DFA has spent almost 60 percent of the P400 million allocated by Congress to support ATN operations abroad for 2017.
In her consultation with some foreign service posts in the Middle East, Arriola said she was told that they could not effectively respond to ATN cases because of budget constraints.
Cayetano said the additional funding could address the 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 kababayans there,” Cayetano added.
Arriola, for her part, 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,” Arriola added.