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Grace Poe eyes ‘one-stop shop’ for OFWs Poe

14 April 2016

Poe with The Sun's Grace Ordoa and Vir Lumicao

By Vir B. Lumicao

Senator Grace Poe wants the creation of a single agency that will act as a “one-stop shop” for processing documents of overseas Filipino workers, in place of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The presidential candidate told The SUN in an ambush interview in Central on Christmas Day that repatriation fees that OWWA requires overseas Filipino workers to pay should be lowered or scrapped altogether, and that members of the program who become senior citizens should not lose their benefits.
However. OWWA charges only membership, and not repatriation fees to OFWs. The cost of repatriation is borne either by the employer or the worker's employment agency,,
Poe arrived in Hong Kong on Dec 25 with her husband Neil Llamanzares and daughter Hanna and checked in at Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Poe, who was disqualified by the Commission on Elections from seeking the presidency in the national elections in May due to questions about her citizenship, said it is only the Supreme Court that can decide whether she is not legally fit to run.   “Sa ngayon po, meron po tayong recourse na Supreme Court so, hanggang ngayon ang aking pangalan ay nasa balota pa rin. Ang Supreme Court lang ang tanging makakapagdesisyon kung tanggal ba ako o hindi, kaya sa ngayon tuloy pa rin tayo,” she replied when asked whether she was still in the running for the presidency.
 (Right now, we have the recourse of going to the Supreme Court, so until now my name is still on ballot. Only the Supreme Court can decide whether I'm out or not, so we're still good to go")
Poe’s visit coincided with the Christmas event of Migrante International Hong Kong on Chater Road just a few steps away from the Mandarin Oriental. Poe's senatorial line-up includes Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, which is in the Makabayan bloc like Migrante.
The candidate appeared in the "Pamaskong Handog ng Migrante Hong Kong” event but did not address the crowd of about 200 OFWs from various groups led by Migrante HK. She was whisked away by Bayan HK chair Eman Villanueva and Mission for Migrant Workers staff Norman Carnay when dozens of Filipinas began mobbing her for photographs.
Poe said friends such as senatorial candidate Susan “Toots” Ople, the Ople Foundation as well as Migrante were helping her craft her policies for the welfare of OFWs. “Unang-una, yung magkaroon ng one-stop shop dito sa mga permit processing. Di ba may POEA, may OWWA. Dapat may isa na lang ahensiya,” Poe said.
“Pangalawa, yung mga repatriation fees, dapat diyan babaan o tanggalin. Yung isa pa, yung benepisyo ng OWWA, sabi nila pag senior citizen daw hindi na puwedeng mag-contribute. Kung matagal na silang nagtatatrabaho sa ibang bansa, bakit tatanggalin yun mga benepisyo na iyon?” she asked.
OWWA benefits, however, constitute mainly of the Php100,000 death benefit and Php10,000 burial assistance extended to an OFW's family in case of death.
Poe also suggested that all Philippine consulates and embassies have a 24-hour hotline with staff available anytime to give assistance to OFWs in distress.
In Hong Kong, this is already. being done, with 24-hour hotlines for both the assistance to nationals section and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.
Poe said some 6,000 OFWs are in jails around the world, with 74 on death row, and they also need protection.
As for her economic platform, Poe said the plan is to attract foreign investors to the Philippines by lowering the country’s corporate income taxes. She compared the country’s 30% corporate income tax with Hong Kong’s 14%. “Kung ikaw ang namumuhunan, gusto mo bang magpunta sa bansa kung saan napakataas ng tax? Natural ay ayaw mo, so, kailangan nating babaan,” Poe said.
She also indicated moving against corruption at the Bureau of Customs and the agency’s move to tax balikbayan boxes. She said Senator Ralph Recto has a bill proposing to raise the value of tax-free goods that OFWs can put in a balikbayan box to P150,000.
Poe said she is thinking of more infrastructure projects such as airports and roads, which are vital to the economy
Manufacturing could be revived by using the country’s “agri to agri by-products,” with coconut as an example, Poe said. Many products could be manufactured from coconut, such as virgin coco oil, coco water, coco coir, and many more.
In the mining industry, miners extract minerals process them overseas instead of doing so in the Philippines because electricity is very expensive. Those mining companies should be allowed to set up their own power plants so they could process the metals locally and maximize the country’s earnings from the industry.
Poe said the Philipines is the fifth most mineralized country in the world. “Ang tingin ko sa minerals natin, pamana iyan sa atin, huwag nating lustayin, huwag nating sirain ang environment,” she said. (i look at our mineral (deposits) as a legacy. We should not  squander them, let's not wreck our environment).
“You should not consume your inheritance in just one sitting. And whatever earnings you make, you have to invest in something better. At the same time, dapat ay responsible mining,” Poe said.
Ultimately, the woman who wants to be president said it is her dream that all OFWs return home. “If the job is good in your country, who think of going abroad? We will achieve that goal gradually as more investors arrive in our country,” she said.
Told about how OFWs going home for good can hardly get a job in their country, Poe said she was aware of employers being very discriminatory. She said there are bills against age discrimination that she and Senator Pia Cayetano are supporting. — With a report from Gina N. Ordona

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