DFA to relax guidelines in aiding OFWs in distress

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is working to relax guidelines for the provision of assistance to nationals (ATN) to all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress in a bid to make the support more inclusive.

Lawyer Raul Dado, DFA Executive Director for Migrant Workers Affairs, said the department aims to adopt a “liberal approach” by reducing unnecessary steps and procedures on filing a request for assistance.

“The funds will assist them in most of their needs,” he said Wednesday in an interview.

Dado added that the ATN fund could be made available to stranded OFWs abroad for the purchase of plane tickets, or those who got sick and hospitalized, among others.

He said aside from ATN, the government also provides legal services to OFWs in distress.

Dado said DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano wanted the new guidelines for ATN provision approved by Malacañang.

For his part, DFA Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said such guidelines could be implemented immediately after their approval, as there were remaining funds for ATN operations in 2017.

“As far as I know, the changes are (aimed) to make it more inclusive. Kasi dati ang napansin namin, medyo (We noticed before it was slightly) restrictive ‘yung kung saan mo pwedeng gamitin (where you can utilize the assistance),” Bolivar said.

He said the ATN fund could now shoulder flight tickets of repatriated OFWs to their provinces, unlike before when the government shouldered their airfares to Manila only.

Bolivar also cited cases of some Filipinos facing charges abroad whose personal belongings were confiscated.

Purchase of their personal items could now be charged to ATN fund.

He added the department will speed up the release of assistance.

President Rodrigo Duterte approved Cayetano’s request for a PHP1-billion budget to assist distressed Filipinos abroad in 2018, from previous PHP600 million.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola earlier said the ATN budget would be utilized to the fullest to allow foreign service posts to respond “more quickly and more effectively” to ATN cases.

“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 said.Leslie Gatpolintan/PNA