MANILA - The Department of Foreign Affairs is against the sale of its properties abroad even as the agency has realigned funds for the retrofitting of its building to the government’s COVID-19 response.
In a tweet Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said the DFA has also turned down all proposals for the acquisition of properties abroad during the pandemic.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs opposes the sale of its properties abroad especially in key capitals. We have meanwhile turned down all proposals for the acquisition of properties abroad in this pandemic. The DFA has realigned all its retrofitting to the anti-COVID campaign,” Locsin said.
In a virtual news forum last July 1, Locsin said he has ordered to realign funds previously allotted for the retrofitting of the DFA building to the agency’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund, as DFA funds to assist and repatriate distressed overseas Filipinos may be depleted by August or September.
DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido J. Dulay said that around 45 percent of the P1.2 billion allotted for the retrofitting project had already been slashed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to fund the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act. The remaining money for the project has then been ordered realigned by Locsin for the ATN.
The DFA assured OFWs who want to come home that repatriation efforts will continue.
“May natitira pa naman kaming pera. Ang feeling namin, mauubos nang mga maybe around August or September; ubos na iyan. But Secretary Locsin has already ordered to realign the funds para magkaroon ng pondo ulit," Dulay said during the July 1 virtual news forum of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay.
"So, iyong mga ibang natira na retrofitting, Secretary Locsin already ordered to realign it to the ATN para continuous ang funding namin because we also don’t want to rely on the supplemental or Bayanihan 2, and hindi pa tayo sigurado kung mapa-pass iyon,” he added.
Locsin said he refused additional money when the President asked him if the DFA needs additional funds.
“Medyo mayabang ako e. ‘Absolutely not sir, we work with what I have and if we have to realign our budget I will, (if) I have to take it out of other operations I will and will not hesitate,’” Locsin said, explaining his decision to get rid of funds for the retrofitting of DFA buildings.
“We have a big budget for that (retrofitting), and I said no, that all goes to the OFWs to get them home and to take care of them, to the extent we can,” Locsin added.
Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez has been pushing for the passage of a law that will create an entity to ensure Philippine properties overseas are properly maintained and managed.
Speaking to visiting Filipino journalists in November 2019, Romualdez said the proposed law is also envisioned to discourage the selling of government properties abroad.
Under the proposed Philippine Overseas Properties Management Act, the disposition of the country's overseas properties shall be approved by the President, while Congress will have the authority to approve or disapprove the acquisition or sale of properties.
The Philippine Center Management Boards (PCMBs) will be created in various Philippine foreign service posts that will be responsible for the maintenance, management, and disposition of overseas properties of the DFA.
Among the PCMBs’ duties will be to ensure the fitness for occupancy of Philippine center facilities “by undertaking, on a need basis, repair, renovation, improvement, decoration, alteration, furnishing and fitting up of the building property.”
“The properties are not maintained by the Department of Foreign Affairs, it is not their business... Their business is diplomacy and consular work. So I think if we put up a company with a specific purpose to manage and maintain all government properties, I think it will be better off, especially abroad. There’s continuity in managing it,” Romualdez said.