She said government agencies like the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) fail to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “Protection, if at all, does not even reach one percent of the one million workers sent out annually,” said Regalado.
The Philippine Labor Offices (POLO) in Philippine Embassies tasked to monitor the conditions of overseas workers, check employers’ compliance with contracts and provide legal assistance to OFWs in distress only have 34 offices with 230 staff to serve one million OFWs in 197 countries.
Even the welfare fund managed by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) cannot be accessed easily by OFWs, said Regalado. The OWWA’s fund, which comes from the $25 membership contribution of migrants themselves with counterparts from their employers, is earmarked for repatriation, health and life insurance, legal assistance, scholarships and trainings and loans for migrant families.
In 2005, OWWA’s income from its one million members was pegged at $172 million and for the last five years had an average of $38 million annually. Regalado said, “Note that the government is not spending a single cent for migrant welfare…and yet, more often than not, OFWs in distress have to plead for the release of their own funds from OWWA.”
Regalado said that revenue-generating measures out of migration or state exactions also rake in profits for the government even before OFWs leave Philippine shores.
Modern day slavery
Regalado said the Philippine government is only after the ‘continuing, uninterrupted and expanding’ flow of remittances of migrants. She said the labor export policy has allowed the country’s remittance to shoot up to $17 billion by the end of 2007.
“If we go by the Philippine experience…the theme Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development of the Second GFMD is already rendered useless, a complete sham,” said Regalado. It is a labor market for modern day slaves, she added.
Lestari said, “The moment…governments systematically export their own people just like commodities to be bought and sold, they definitely infringe on our right to human development. This is forced migration and modern-day slavery, not development.”