Duterte approves ₱1-B budget to assist distressed Filipinos abroad in 2018 — DFA Chief

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 22) — President Rodrigo Duterte approved the ₱1-billion budget to assist distressed Filipinos abroad in 2018, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday.

Cayetano told Filipino ambassador and consuls general, especially those in the Middle East, that they would be provided with resources to assist distressed Filipinos.

"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," the Secretary said.

Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said the assistance will cover all overseas Filipino wokers (OFWs) around the world regardless of status.

"Of course, this is in conjunction with financial assistance available thru (Overseas Workers Welfare Association) — for OWWA members — and through the OFWs' employers depending on the provisions of their respective contracts," Bolivar told CNN Philippines Tuesday.

There are over 1.25 million Filipinos in Middle Eastern countries, or 56.9 percent of the total population of all overseas Filipino workers in the world, as stated in the 2016 Philippine Statistics Authority report says.

But OFWs also faced a number of problems during their stay, particularly in Saudi Arabia: some had their passports taken away, some were victims of illegal recruitment, while others were underpaid.

Read more: 138 OFWs from Saudi arrive in PH with Duterte

Filipinos, who violated the country's immigration laws, were granted amnesty by the Saudi Arabian government under its new anti-expatriates campaign.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Bello: Over 400 undocumented OFWs in Saudi returning to PH

Under Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, distressed Filipinos abroad are entitled to legal, medical and employment assistance.

The additional funding will be allocated to Assistance to Nationals programs of embassies and consulates from Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

"With the increase in ATN funding, we should be able to accommodate more overseas Filipinos who would need our assistance," Arriola said.

Arriola explained the department has already spent almost 60 percent of the P400-million allocated to ATN programs.

"We will use those funds to cover 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 our posts," she added.