DFA Assures OFWs of Quicker Response, Improved Services with Signing of New Guidelines on Use of P1-B in ATN Funds
18 December 2017 PASAY — Overseas Filipino workers and their families in the Philippines can now look forward to quicker response and improved services from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with the signing today of new guidelines on the use of the more than P1-billion in funds that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered release to assist Filipinos who encounter emergencies and other problems abroad.
With the signing of the new guidelines on the use of the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund and the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF), the DFA will now be in a position to more effectively respond to the growing number of distressed Filipinos abroad who require government assistance, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano.
Today, Secretary Cayetano signed the new guidelines prepared by the Office of Migrant Workers Affairs a few days after Congress approved the President’s request to increase the ATN Fund from P400 million to P1 billion and the LAF from P100 million to P200 million for 2018.
“The President has vowed to provide a comfortable life for all Filipinos and recognized our overseas Filipinos as heroes for the sacrifices that they and their families back home are making,” Secretary Cayetano said. “We cannot thank the President enough for this generous gesture that would now allow us to serve our kababayans abroad—whether documented or undocumented—much quicker and better.”
Secretary Cayetano said he ordered a review and revision on the guidelines on the use of the ATN Fund and the LAF immediately after the President announced the budget augmentation for the DFA “to allow more flexibility in their disbursement, to expand the scope of the services covered, and to be more responsive to the needs of our distressed kababayans abroad.”
“The rationale behind the revised guidelines is for us to be able to help as many and as much without sacrificing the quality of our service,” Secretary Cayetano said as he noted the surge in the number of distressed Filipinos the DFA has been extending assistance to since the start of the year.
With the new funds, Secretary Cayetano said the DFA will now be able to respond to more than the 14,995 cases involving distressed Filipinos that it was able to assist using ATN Funds since the start of the year and the 11,554 it assisted in 2016 as well as the 685 Filipinos it provided legal assistance to since January and the 312 others the year before.
“The LAF may be availed of by a distressed overseas Filipino who is unable to engage the services of private counsel, and who is in a country where there is no system of legal aid or public defenders, or where there is no access to counsel de officio, or any lawyer provided by the foreign host government,” the Secretary explained.
The ATN funds, on the other hand, shall be used to cover welfare assistance, repatriation for distressed, including sick and deceased, Filipinos abroad. These now include door-to-door repatriation from the host country to the actual residence in the Philippines and in case of death, the cost of cremation or embalming and transport of remains to final destination in the Philippines, plus reasonable burial assistance.
Secretary Cayetano said the ATN Fund shall also be used to provide temporary accommodation, food and basic supplies at reasonable amounts and period of duration abroad or as necessary in the Philippines to both documented and undocumented Filipinos.
Under the new guidelines, Secretary Cayetano said the DFA will not only provide care packages and basic supplies for Filipinos in death row or serving life sentences abroad but will also shoulder the cost of compassionate visits by their next of kin to the country of incarceration. This also covers Filipinos with life-threatening illnesses abroad.
He said the ATN Fund shall also be utilized to cover the cost of medical services and hospitalization for those who require emergency treatment. In case of medical repatriation the ATN Fund will also cover the travel of the next of kin of distressed overseas Filipinos from their homes in the provinces to the DFA in Manila or the DFA Regional Offices, he said.
The ATN Fund shall also be used to support quick response and support mechanisms such as the opening and maintenance of shelters for distressed Filipinos; the establishment of a 24/7 communications and operations center in the Philippines and abroad; and the deployment of security personnel to areas that have been placed under Crisis Alert Levels III and IV.
According to the Secretary, the ATN Fund shall also be used to provide paralegal, security and other training for ATN personnel in the Philippines and abroad as well as in the establishment of an online ATN Case Management System to facilitate case retrieval and direct access to ATN cases and the development of mobile applications.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said that under the new LAF guidelines, the DFA would be able to provide legal assistance to more Filipinos abroad who end up in jail or are involved in court cases.
With the new LAF guidelines, Undersecretary Arriola said legal assistance to victims of Trafficking in Persons and illegal recruitment would be given priority. The new guidelines also lifted the cap in the professional fees, filing, and other court fees as well as incidental litigation expenses for Filipinos with pending cases.
“Aside from human trafficking and illegal recruitment cases, the LAF will now cover legal fees for criminal or police cases, immigration or deportation cases and labor disputes,” Undersecretary Arriola said. END