Audit consular collections
We find the salaries and allowances of government officials, revealed by the Commission on Audit in its 2014 report, outrageous and scandalous.
The report shows that seven of the 10 highest-paid government officials are diplomats: Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio, P16.44 million; Ambassador to the United Kingdom Enrique Manalo, P12.34 million; Ambassador to Austria Lourdes Yparraguirre, P11.74 million; Ma. Theresa Tagulang, consul general at Tokyo, P10.91 million; Esteban Conejos, Philippines’ representative to the World Trade Organization, P10.7 million; Ambassador to Portugal Philippe Lhuillier, P10.56 million; and Ambassador to Germany Ma. Cleofa Natividad, P9.86 million.
Six other diplomats each received at least P9.1 million in salary and allowances during the 2014 fiscal year.
While these diplomats were earning millions, the Aquino administration allocation to the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) in its 2015 national budget was a meager P100 million, a massive cutback from the original proposal of P500 million that took into account the alarming increase in the number of distressed, stranded and undocumented OFWs who urgently and desperately need government onsite services and welfare programs.
President Aquino even made a “conditional veto” to the LAF item: The Department of Foreign Affairs can use the fund provided it has funding sources such as collections or savings. No wonder Philippine diplomatic posts abroad have intensified its collections by increasing consular fees for passport renewal, authentication and certification.
Take passport renewal: they charge fees that are three times higher than the fee in DFA-Manila, which ranges from P950 for regular processing to P1,200 for express processing. In Saudi Arabia, the fee is 240 rials (roughly P2,800); in the United Arab Emirates, 240 dirhams (at least P2,900); in Hong Kong, 480 HK dollar (at least P2,800).
Even travel document fees and airfares are being collected from the distressed and stranded, despite government pronouncement that the airfares will be provided free for them.
In effect, the P100-million LAF will be sourced from OFWs in the form of state exaction and fees imposition. This “kotong” scheme has overburdened 12 million OFWs and their families as remittances are lessened due to the additional, unnecessary impositions.
While the diplomats are earning millions of pesos and living comfortably in fully furnished, airconditioned rooms, thousands of OFWs—victims of abuses and labor malpractices—are distressed, stranded and undocumented.
We call on the COA to audit all fees collected by Philippine diplomatic posts. We also call on the progressive Makabayan bloc to initiate an investigation in aid of legislation, the findings of which should be the basis for filing graft cases against those who usurped the General Appropriations Act.
The 2016 proposed national budget by the Aquino administration must be thoroughly scrutinized; and the active participation of peoples’ organizations and NGOs is crucial to ensure that a graft-free, equitable, social services-oriented national budget that does not neglect OFWs will be approved.
—DOLORES BALLADARES, chair, Unifil-Migrante-HK; MARIO BEN, chair, Migrante-KSA; NHEL MORONA, national coordinator, Migrante-UAE; JOHN LEONARD MONTERONA, regional coordinator, Migrante-Middle East
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