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Don’t belittle OFWs’ role in society, Colmenares says

31 March 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao

Presidential and senatorial candidates should not ignore the importance of overseas Filipino workers in shaping the Philippine society, according to human rights lawyer and Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is running for a seat in the Senate.
Colmenares made the statement as he bared his three OFW-centered advocacies that he would take to the Senate if he was elected as senator in the May 9 national elections.
These are to fight for an end to unjust government impositions on the overseas workers, advocate better treatment of the country’s so-called modern-day heroes, and to push for industrialization so that people will have decent jobs at home and do not have to go abroad to work.
Colmenares was interviewed by The SUN on March 13 during a brief visit to Hong Kong for the global “miting de avance” of Migrante International on Chater Road, Central, the next day.
“It should be clear to everyone, including the ‘presidentiables’ and ‘senatoriables’, that the OFWs have a significant role in shaping the society,” said Colmenares.
Colmenares was an activist in the martial law era and, as a human rights lawyer, he became involved in many issues concerning overseas Filipino workers. But he said he got a clear view of the three problems dogging the workers when he became a congressman.
He said he authored resolutions, including one criticizing the opening of balikbayan boxes to look for smuggled items and the “laglag-bala” or bullet-planting scam that victimized several returning OFWs.
“After you call them new heroes, you call them smugglers, open their boxes, treat them as gunrunners, and drop bullets in?” he  said.
He cited what he called unjust government impositions on OFWs, such as the overseas employment certificate; the missing Overseas Workers Welfare Administration fund, and the low quality of service that the country’s embassies and consulates provide OFWs.
He said annual OFW remittances have risen to $26 billion, but the workers are treated dismally, as seen in the measly P100 million that went to the workers legal assistance fund for 2015.
Colmenares said he fought for a bigger budget when the government allocated P30 million for the fund, and it was raised to P60 million. In the current Congress, he said he has a resolution seeking a P1 billion budget for the fund.
He said his second advocacy in the Senate would be to lobby against the shabby treatment of OFWs abroad.
“The problem with the government is that out embassies and consuls seem to be afraid to stand up for the rights of our workers in other countries,” he said, citing the case drug trafficking convict Mary Jane Veloso who is on Death Row in Indonesia.
Veloso claimed that Philippine embassy staff in Jakarta neglected her when her case was being heard and Colmenares said it was the National Union of People’s Lawyers of which he is a member that fought to gain reprieve for the Filipina.
“Parang problema pa ng mga OFW natin ang sinuungan nila na mga kaso roon, ang mga pang-aapi, ang mga rape at pagpatay. Hindi sila (government people) tumitindig in favor of the OFWs. Yun ang aking pananaw at marami akong pruweba. Pangalwanag advocacy ko yan sa Senado,” Colmenares said.
He promised to push for industrialization to generate jobs that pay decent salaries so Filipinos won’t have to look for work overseas to support their families.
“I’m against the labor export policy. The government should not treat our people like products for export,” Colmenares said.
He urged the abolition of the OEC and unjust fees and vowed to fight for OFW protection from oppression abroad and fight in Senate for decent jobs in the Philippines.
On illegal and high fees that recruiters collect from workers, Colmenares accused the government of turning a blind eye to the problem “because it intends to continue labor exportation and because of corruption”.
“Kasi gusto nila ang $26 billion bawat taon, kaya hindi nila mino-monitor ang mga agency, kailangan nila iyan,” he said, referring to the annual OFW remittances that provide financial stability to the country even when its neighbors are reeling from global economic downturns.
Colmenares, who fought for the passage of a bill increasing Social Security System pension by P2,000 a month, only to be vetoed by President Benigno Aquino III, said he would continue to fight for its passage.
On the Supreme Court ruling that cleared the candidacy of Sen. Grace Poe for president, Colmenares said nothing in the Constitution states that a foundling is not a Philippine citizen, and that there is an international law that declares that all foundlings are citizens of the country where they are found.
He said the Supreme Court backed Poe on the citizenship issue because of the principle that her accusers should bear the burden of proving she is not a Filipino, and not vice versa.

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