DAVAO CITY– Migrant workers and their families have asked the government to protect every Filipino worker abroad.
“The overseas foreign workers are called ‘modern day heroes’ but the government has failed to provide for their welfare,” said Gina Garboni, secretary-general of Migrante International during the first celebration of the international migrants’ day here. Migrante is a global alliance of OFWs and their families.
Rep. Luz Ilagan, member of the House committee on overseas workers’ affairs, said most OFWs abroad needed legal assistance to protect them against abuses.
She also said that the government needed to regulate recruitment, strictly monitor recruitment agencies and see to it that the overseas workers’ jobs abroad match with the job description in their contracts.
Ilagan said many overseas workers have become victims of illegal recruitment because recruiters and syndicates are not caught. She said there are allegations that some Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) officials have been protecting or tolerating these illegal recruiters.
She also said there’s a need to formulate standards following several cases where the job contract signed between an OFW and his or her recruiter is different from the actual job offered.
Ilagan also said there’s a need to look into cases of undocumented workers and “stateless” children, or children who were registered neither in the Philippines nor in other countries. She said the OFWs lack access to justice to confront these problems. “There are no lawyers to defend them,” she said.
She also cited cases of OFWs imprisoned because the lawyers defending them were not familiar with the language in the countries where they worked and had to grapple with the translations during court proceedings.
Garboni said eight to nine million Filipinos, or 10 percent of the country’s population, have been working abroad. Most of these OFWs are women doing what she described as ‘dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs.’
Garboni said 59 OFWs are on death row this year; 14 of them in line for beheading in Saudi Arabia. Several OFWs have been stranded and unable to return home while others die mysterious deaths. Thousands of OFWs have been retrenched as a result of the ongoing global recession; while others have fallen victims to unfair labor practices, working long hours, with no salaries. Others become victims of maltreatment and sexual abuses.
Garboni said Migrante handles an average of two to three rape cases per day.
In the Middle East, where 1.7 million OFWs are deployed, OFWs are prone to abuses because there are no existing bilateral agreements between these countries and the Philippines concerning OFWs’ welfare.
Ilagan said the “progressive” block in the House of Representatives has filed House Bill 5657 to expand the legal services provided to OFWs. The bill will help establish legal attachè offices in each country in the Middle East under the supervision of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
But instead of sending legal experts to help the OFWs in distress in Saudi Arabia, the government instead sent police attaches in February this year.
Garboni said the large processing fees that OFWs had to pay for the processing of their papers also aggravated their difficulties. The government has been earning some 68.4 million pesos a day, or 18 billion pesos a year, from these processing fees alone.
Ilagan said the government’s ‘labor export policy,’ or the policy of sending Filipinos to work overseas, has already been going on for three decades since the time of Marcos.
Overseas remittances during the time of Marcos reached only as much as 103 million dollars. But in Arroyo’s time, remittances reached as high as 16 billion dollars.
Ilagan said it is the OFW’s remittances that kept the country’s economy afloat.
“The government has benefited from the huge remittances of the OFWs, so, the government should help them (the OFWs) back,” said Jean Bingcoy, an OFW who has been working on and off in Japan for four years.
Ilagan said the government should offer jobs right here in the country so that Filipinos no longer need to work outside, where they are prone to abuse and exploitation. (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)OFWS & Migration