The House of Representatives terminated on Monday night its plenary debate on the proposed 2018 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), amounting to P19.57 billion.
The DFA officials present at the House during the budget deliberation were led by Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano.
Rep. Carlos Cojuangco (1st District, Tarlac), vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations and sponsor of the DFA proposed budget, pointed out that the department budget is 0.52 percent of the P3.77 trillion proposed national appropriation for next year.
“The proposed budget currently stands at only 0.52 percent, that is less than one percent of the P3.77 trillion proposed national budget for 2018,” Cojuangco said.
“It is a priceless investment in the welfare and safety of our nationals overseas and our nation’s sustained growth, development and security,” Cojuangco said.
In his interpellation, Rep. Joselito Atienza (Party-list, BUHAY) raised the issue on the application and issuance of passports, which he said has been causing a lot of distress on the applicants.
Atienza also asked if the DFA has initiated special efforts to provide hassle-free arrivals and even special treatment for the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who the country considers as modern-day heroes because of their contribution to the economy.
Further, Atienza queried about the latest development on the West Philippine Sea issue.
Atienza suggested that the country should build structures in the Benham Rise since it is unquestionably and undoubtedly a Philippine territory and to prevent other countries from laying claim on the said area.
Cojuangco said the DFA has taken steps which have expedited the processing of the passport from 10 to seven days, and will speed up further when the equipment purchased by the department are delivered.
He explained that the equipment, which will be deployed nationwide, will increase and improve the data gathering and automated identification system.
He also said there are additional slots being opened for e-passport online appointments, which will accommodate more passport applicants.
On the OFWs, Cojuangco said the DFA works with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in providing assistance to arriving OFWs. He said, however, that some of the concerns pointed out by Atienza fall under the jurisdiction of other government agencies.
On the West Philippine Sea, Cojuangco explained that the current direction of the country’s foreign policy is that the Philippines wishes to work with its neighbors, without renouncing its rightful claims to any territory.
“The policy is basically a status quo. It is a status quo wherein we do not relinquish our rightful claims within the West Philippine Sea, but it is also a policy wherein we do not antagonize the people we are trying to befriend and work with,” Cojuangco explained.
“It is a prudent strategy wherein we maintain our ground but we also cultivate friendships, lasting relationships, and sound diplomacy,” he said.
For his part, Rep. Antonio Tinio (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS) asked what actions the DFA has taken on the Sandy Cay area, a Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea which, Tinio said, China has reportedly occupied.
Cojuangco pointed out the DFA is undertaking two diplomatic approaches to strengthen its claims and presence in the disputed territories, which are through UNCLOS framework and outside UNCLOS.
He stressed that the best way to guarantee peace in the region is when the claimant parties to a disputed territory are engaged in dialogue and agreeing to a system.
Rep. Tom Villarin (Party-list, AKBAYAN) asked about the DFA’s role in monitoring the country’s adherence to international treaties and agreements which the Philippines has ratified.
He also asked about the status of the country’s adherence to the Second Optional Protocol, a covenant on civil and political rights, which the country ratified in 2007.
On the ratified treaties and agreements, Cojuangco explained that these are monitored and periodically reviewed by the Philippine embassies and consulates all over the world. He said the diplomatic posts are also given instructions on how to proceed.
On the Second Optional Protocol, Cojuangco replied that it has not been ratified by the Senate and therefore, the Philippines does not fall under the said covenant.
Other House members also raised issues on the West Philippine Sea situation and concerns of OFWs. / ABR | HOR-PR