Press Release
July 21, 2006

Gov't response to help OFWs in Lebanon
'woefully inadequate,' says Drilon

Senate President and Liberal Party head Franklin Drilon today deplored that the P150 million allocated by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to evacuate Filipinos in the war-torn Lebanon was "woefully inadequate" which he said merely reflected Malacañang 's "patronizing attitude" towards overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) currently has cash reserves amounting to a whopping P7.6 billion but Malacañang allocated only P150 million which can cover the evacuation of only 1,500 workers. The problem is there are over 30,000 Filipinos who are in harm's way in Lebanon," Drilon said. "The government response to this Lebanon crisis is woefully inadequate."

On Thursday, President Arroyo ordered the release of P150 million for the Filipinos' evacuation from Lebanon, even as she urged the international community to help evacuate her citizens. Mrs. Arroyo came under fire for failing to do enough to help Filipinos stuck in the war zone, many of whom are female domestic workers.

In a statement, Drilon urged Malacañang not to be "stingy" in the use of OWWA funds, noting that the agency was created precisely to assist OFWs. Drilon served as labor secretary during the administration of President Corazon Aquino.

The Liberal Party president also took exception to Malacañang 's appeal to foreign governments to help accommodate Filipino workers in their respective evacuation plans.

"Given that we have billions of pesos in OWWA funds, I don't believe it was necessary to sacrifice our national pride by pleading with other countries to accommodate our distressed OFWs," Drilon lamented. "This is pathetic."

"During happy times, this government sings high praises to our OFWs, calling them modern day heroes, because their remittances regularly keep our economy afloat. But during times of crisis and our workers need immediate assistance, Malacañang suddenly turns stingy with OWWA funds. This betrays Malacañang 's patronizing attitude towards our overseas workers," Drilon explained.

The Department of Budget and Management said P150 million would be released this week. The amount will be pooled under the Department of Foreign Affair's Assistance-to-Nationals fund, the standby fund tapped for contingencies involving Filipinos abroad, the DBM said.

There are at least 30,000 Filipinos in Lebanon, most of whom are domestic helpers. Aside from the Philippines , other countries have begun evacuating their citizens from Lebanon, which has been under siege from Israeli forces these past weeks after the Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers and refused to release them.

An estimated seven to eight million Filipinos are scattered around the globe. They include many domestic workers as well as hospital staff in the United States and Europe, oil workers and drivers in Saudi Arabia, and security guards in Iraq. Many of these workers earn as little as $300 per month and have few rights or access to help when problems erupt abroad. Collectively remittances by foreign-based workers sustain the Philippine economy. Last year alone they sent home over $10 billion.

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