OFWs presented a 10-point proposal, which include: the immediate release of funds under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to thousands of rightful claimants, opening of the Philippine posts closed down by the government, and scrapping of policies and imposed fees that are additional burden to workers.
By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
Around 140 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families presented the program and policy changes that they want the incoming Duterte administration to implement to ensure the protection of migrants’ rights and welfare.
In a forum at the UP College of Mass Communication, June 7, Migrante International also called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to prosecute erring officials, recruitment agencies, and human traffickers who abused OFWs.
Their 10-point proposal include: the immediate release of funds under the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to thousands of rightful claimants, opening of the Philippine posts closed down by the government, and scrapping of policies and imposed fees that are additional burden to workers.
Among those who attended was Eugenio Reynaldo Pasahol, 45, who served as a seafarer for 12 years.
“It takes a lot of money before you finish your course and land a job as a seafarer. You need to submit several documents and certificates from different agencies before you get employed,” he said.
Pasahol said there should be a genuine union for seafarers that would help them assert their rights in the cases they file in court. In September 2008, he filed a complaint against his agency which fired him after he was diagnosed with kidney stones. The case was rejected, leaving him unemployed.
“There were times when we could not drink from the potable water gallon because the container was newly-painted. We then drank from the freshwater generator, not knowing that it may cause health problems, such as kidney stones,” Pasahol said in Filipino.
OFW plight under Aquino government
Migrante criticized the Aquino government for its further intensification of the labor export policy that had imperiled the lives of Filipino migrant workers and their families in the past four decades. In spite of Aquino’s promise to generate more domestic jobs so workers need not go abroad, it was during his term that OFW deployment was recorded the highest since the 1970s, the group stated.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration revealed an average of 5,054 migrant workers were being deployed per day in 2014, higher than the 4,018 migrants per day recorded in 2010. In addition, almost half of land-based deployed migrants are service workers from 2010 to 2013.
The Aquino government also failed to address the immediate evacuation of OFWs affected by conflicts and calamities, illegal recruitment, and human trafficking, Migrante stated. Eight Filipino migrant workers were executed in different countries, under the watch of Aquino, and around 92 remain on death row, including Mary Jane Veloso.
The group also called on the incoming government to scrap the standing OWWA Omnibus Policies, which made the once lifetime contribution of $25 a mandatory fee per contract. Failure to pay this fee removes the OFW’s entitlement to programs and welfare services provided by the office.
Migrante is hopeful that Duterte will put the OFW sector among his priorities and keep his promises during the elections, which include the creation of the Department of OFWs. The said department must serve the group’s 10-point agenda, so that there will be a time when it won’t be needed anymore, Migrante Chairperson Garry Martinez said.
Celia Veloso, who also attended the forum, appealed for the release of her daughter Mary Jane. Veloso said she wanted to talk personally with Duterte regarding her daughter’s case who is a victim of human trafficking. Mary Jane may have escaped execution on April 29 but the call for her release remains. Mary Jane’s case is set for another court hearing on June 14 in Nueva Ecija.
Progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Judy Taguiwalo, incoming Social Work and Development secretary, also expressed their support to the OFW proposal.
Bayan Chairperson Carol Araullo highlighted Duterte’s act to forward policies favoring the poor and the release of political prisoners.
“We, in Bayan, support the OFWs and their families in the hopes for a long-term solution to be provided by the government – policies that will provide decent jobs in the country… so no one will be forced to work abroad,” Araullo said.
Taguiwalo, meanwhile, said progressive groups should not let their guard down and use this opportunity to consolidate what the citizens really need, just like the proposal provided by Migrante.