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Militants cautiously welcome pro OFW pledges of Duterte gov’t

03 June 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

Militant migrant organizations in Hong Kong have largely welcomed new initiatives from the Philippine government on resolving some of the major problems besetting overseas Filipino workers, including the overseas employment certificate and the ban on direct hiring.

The new measures were unveiled by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III during a meeting with United Filipinos – Migrante Hong Kong on May 13, and affirmed in part by President Rodrigo R. Duterte during a meeting with Filipino community leaders later in the day

“Masaya naman kami at naging mabunga ang dialogue with Sec. Bello,” said Unifil-Migrante secretary general Eman Villanueva in a message sent in response to queries from The SUN.

“Para sa amin, we welcome the commitments and we consider this na pag advance ng OFW agenda sa Duterte administration. But we will not stop until makita namin ang actual na implementasyon ng mga ito”.

Villanueva said his group got four main concessions from the administration: (1) the scrapping of the OEC and its replacement by a free OFW card called iDOLE; (2) the resumption of direct hiring of OFWs, on the condition that the helper found the employer herself, or through relatives; 3)continuing membership in the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, despite the worker’s failure to update payment of membership fees; and the doubling of the emergency financial assistance to OFWs to Php20,000.

But, Villanueva cautioned, “At the same time it is clear to us that lahat na ito ay nasa level pa lang ng commitments, or usapan pa lang. We want to make sure that maipapatupad ito nang walang additional financial burden or inconvenience sa mga OFWs.”

He said Unifil and other allied groups are now working on proposals on how best to implement the promised moves, particularly the abolition of the OEC and the corresponding issuance of the new OFW card, and the partial lifting of the ban on direct hiring.

The OEC, which is required of all OFWs leaving the Philippines for jobs abroad, has long been in place, but became a major problem due to the recent rapid increase in the number of OFWs, particularly in Hong Kong, who often swarm the Philippine Overseas Labor Office during peak vacation periods.

Recent moves to replace it with an online exemption certificate made matters worse because the workers still found themselves queuing up to complete the online registration or get help logging onto the site.

Direct hiring of OFWs in Hong Kong was, on the other hand, allowed at least partially until around
ten years ago when then Labor Attache Romulo Salud stopped the practice, ostensibly on orders by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Bello reportedly told the group that Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre could already start allowing direct hiring under the conditions mentioned. However, Villanueva said that during a follow-up talk, Labatt dela Torre told his group that he still needed guidelines from the head office before he could start implementing the directive.

There are at least two other equally pressing concerns the militants want resolved, and these are are the integration of the terminal fee into airline tickets issued to OFWs who are, by law, exempted from the charge; and the plan to increase the passport fee, once its validity is stretched from five to 10 years.

Villanueva said his group still has to monitor if OFWs are still being charged the terminal fee in their tickets, despite Bello’s promise as early as last April that the practice would be stopped.

“Pero naghahanda na rin kami ng proposal para sa papaano ang mga unrefunded na pera ng mga OFWs. Kasama na dito ang extension ng period ng refund at ang possible na paglagyan ng mga hindi na talaga mare-refund na TF ng mga OFWs. Pero kailangan pa itong aralin at konsultahin sa Filcom”, said Villanueva.

As for the passport, he said his group welcomes the legislature’s enactment of a law that would extend the document’s validity to 10 years since this had long been part of their advocacies.

“Pero we strongly oppose ang plan na increase sa fee. We do not see any reason for this. At dagdag pa dito, we will continue to campaign na maging pareho ang singil ng passport sa Pilipinas and overseas.”, said Villanueva.

He also admitted being wary of plans to require OFWs to obtain a government-issued ID, saying his group would first have to study its real benefits to workers, and make sure that there are no business or political interests behind the move.

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