Senate panel approves P19.66-B DFA budget for 2018

MANILA -- The proposed budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) amounting to PHP19.66 billion was approved by the Senate Committee on Finance on Thursday.

We approved the budget of the DFA and its attached agencies, Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said noting that it will be sent to plenary.

DFA, led by Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, is the first agency to have its budget approved. The committee earlier postponed the approval of the budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

During the hearing, Cayetano told the committee that the PHP19.66 billion proposed DFA budget is 0.52 percent of the total proposed national budget of 2018 which is at PHP3.767 trillion.

Of the PHP19.66 billion, Cayetano said P9.57 billion will be allotted to the DFA Office of the Secretary while the remaining PHP89.33 million will be for its attached agencies -- the Foreign Service Institute (PHP64.93 million), the Technical Cooperation Council of the Philippines (PHP4.60 million), and the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (PHP19.80 million).

Cayetano, a former senator, began his presentation on enumerating his agency's achievements and ongoing efforts.

Under the Duterte administration, Cayetano said that there has been 15 official and state visits, 36 agreements on trade and investments, and 17 bilateral agreements.

He also said that 16,352 OFWs in distress and 348 victims of human trafficking were assisted in 2016.

Moreover, four Filipinos have been spared on death row. Cayetano said that the agency continues to actively seek means to protect Filipinos facing legal challenges.

In 2016, the agency issued 3.110 million passports. Meanwhile, in the January to June 2017 period, 2.165 million passports were issued.

As for foreign tourist arrivals, Cayetano said that the Philippines welcomed 5.9 million tourists in 2016. It also acquired PHP8 billion worth of foreign direct investment.

Before Cayetano presented his slides, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara had questions for Cayetano about the DFA's mobile passport services and if there were efforts to upgrade it and shorten processing long lines.

Cayetano admitted that there was definitely a problem but noted that the agency was working quietly to resolve it by acquiring more data capture machines for here and abroad.

At no cost to the government, we are getting more data capture machines including mobile for abroad and for the Philippines. We will have five trucks with four to eight machines inside. Which we can bring in the countryside and instead of having mobile passporting every Saturday, we can do it every day, Cayetano said.

Meanwhile, he also said that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), single parents, senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) will no longer have to get an appointment when they apply in any consular office, they can simply walk in.

He also assured the Senate that at minimal cost, the DFA will be able to resolve long lines in passport services.

Source: Philippine News Agency