Starting this June, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) is set to take over the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) program currently being run by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), DMW Secretary Susan "Toots" Ople said.
The ATN program provides support to Filipinos in distress all over the world.
According to Ople, the transition, originally set for this month, has been postponed for a few months to allow time for proper training and thorough review of sensitive cases.
In an interview with GMA Integrated News, Ople said, "We both agreed to extend that to end of June (2023) kasi our people need proper training pa from the DFA. Second, we also need time to study all these cases lalo na yung very sensitive ones involving death row. So there's a technical working group between the DFA and the DMW para lang tignan yung shift ng ATN ng DFA to DMW."
According to DFA officials, at least 83 Filipino nationals are currently on death row in different countries for various offenses. The officials shared this information with the House overseas workers affairs committee last week.
In response to this news, Senator Joel Villanueva expressed his intention to inquire about the lack of acquittals among the 83 Filipinos on death row in various countries. He also questioned whether all legal assistance had been exhausted.
As part of the effort to assist these individuals, Ople announced that the DMW is carefully reviewing the 83 cases of Filipinos on death row. Ople hopes to help these individuals to the full extent of the law in the host country.
With this transfer of responsibility to the DMW, it is expected that the number of ATN cases may increase. However, Ople reassures that the team is studying ways to improve support staff and address any challenges that may arise.
“Ang challenge madaragdagan ng ATN cases pero ang tao pa rin inaaral kung paano madaragdagan ang support staff," she said.
Ople also shared that the use of the action fund has been approved to help overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been hospitalized for a long time in various parts of the world.
"I approved the use of the action fund to bring home those who are still in the hospital and cannot afford to return home. Some of them are sick, and their families cannot afford their medical bills. Others have terminal illnesses. On a humanitarian level, we are doing our best through the cluster of action fund to help," she said.
The ATN program covers a wide range of assistance to Filipino nationals which include providing temporary travel documents, helping in social welfare and medical-related cases as well as criminal and immigration-related issues, finding the whereabouts of missing Filipinos, and supporting those facing court cases. —KG, GMA Integrated News