ABU DHABI // A migrant-rights group is encouraging Filipinos living and working abroad not to send remittances on September 19 to protest against the misuse of government funds.

The initiative follows the Million People March at Manila’s Luneta Park on National Heroes Day on August 26, a demonstration against the misuse of public finances, known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

In the UAE, Filipinos wore white shirts in the workplace to express their solidarity with the march.

The Philippines relies heavily on remittances, which contribute the equivalent of 10 per cent of the nation’s GDP to its economy.

The aim of “Zero Remittance Day” is to pressure the government to abolish the PDAF, which is one of the major symptoms of corruption, said Nhel Morona, the UAE country coordinator for Migrante Middle East.

Remittances in the first half of this year rose 6.2 per cent to US$11.8 billion (Dh43.3bn) compared with the previous year, the Philippines central bank said last month.

Most of the remittances came from the US, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the UAE, Singapore, Canada and Japan.

In the UAE, most Filipinos send money home at the end of the month or during the first week of the following month, after they have been paid.

“I’ve read about the Zero Remittance Day on Facebook last week,” said Vladimir Columbano, an overseas remittance officer at Landbank of the Philippines.

“Filipinos here do not usually send money in the middle of the month unless there’s an emergency. Why put it off for one day when your family needs it?

“We Filipinos will prioritise our families over anything else, even if it is a show of protest against corruption and the misuse of taxpayers’ money by our politicians.”

Reuben Sevillano, marketing manager of the Bank of the Philippine Islands who is based in Abu Dhabi, emphasised the negative impact of Zero Remittance Day on the banking industry, including foreign exchange firms.

“The money transfer and foreign exchange houses here are filled with Filipinos every day,” he said. “The transaction count of remittances will drop and there will be reduced income for the day.”

September 19 falls on the last day of the working week, a Thursday.

“We consider Tuesdays and Wednesdays as lean days but Filipinos tend to send money on Thursday night, before the weekend,” Mr Sevillano said. “It will be alarming for banks and exchange houses if no one will send money on that day.”

On September 19, 2003, the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) made it mandatory for overseas workers to remit at least US $25 (Dh92), said Nhel Morona, the UAE country coordinator for Migrante Middle East.

Membership of the agency costs $25 for two years and gives members and their dependents access to health care, disability and death benefits, loans, repatriation and other forms of assistance.

“Our remittances keep the Philippine economy afloat and we contribute $25 per contract,” he said. “But the government has set aside only 50 million pesos (Dh4.2m) as its legal assistance fund for Filipinos abroad.”

A campaign to support the protest will kick off at Zabeel Park on Friday.

source: http://www.thenational.ae