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Our right to be heard

11 September 2017

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

New administration, new officials to pin our hopes on.

The recent consultation we had with Rep. Winnie Castelo underscored what we oldtimers have known for a long time. That officials may come and go, but the OFWs’ problems remain, and may have even gotten worse with the passing of time.

As the newly designated  vice chair of the House  committee on overseas workers affairs, Rep. Castelo has yet to get a firm grasp on issues affecting OFWs, and that’s understandable. Our OFWs’ concerns are as old as they are varied. The passing of time has made some even more complex. and it will take years of dedicated study to know the background, and the permutations, that some issues have undergone through the years.

Take the iDOLE. This so-called OFW ID is nothing new. Similar ones were issued in the past, but none has withstood the test of time -or change of administration.

In one of its previous incarnations it was known as UMID, or unified multipurpose ID card, which one could get from the SSS. Later, a similar one was issued and was called the OFW eCard, a joint project between the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Equitable Bank. Again, a dud.

With the iDOLE the justification is to replace the much-maligned overseas employment certificate, or OEC. The idea is to issue OFWs with an ID that stores their personal information so they can avail of privileges with just a swipe of the all-important card. The OEC, which was meant to prove their OFW status - a superfluity, given that they each should have a work contract and the requisite visa on their passport - is now supposed to be headed to the dustbin. But is it? The controversies that erupted over conflicting claims on whether the ID would be free, now look set to derail this project even before it could lift off the ground.

Another major concern are the recently issued guidelines for sending a balikbayan box tax-free. After several decades of enjoying this privilege without having to do anything apart from listing all the items inside the box, senders will now also have to supply a price for each, and provide passport copies as well.

There are other worries, too, like ensuring that the box is sent only to a close family friend, and that the total value of items sent home does not exceed Php150,000 each year.

Why the complications? Ostensibly, it’s to ensure that the senders get to enjoy their right to the tax-free benefit and assure them that their boxes will not be opened. But if this were the case, why bother putting a price for each item inside? How could the veracity of this information be proved if the boxes are kept intact?

Less compicated, but no less of a worry to OFWs, is the cost of the new passport with 10-year validity. If they were groaning in the past over having to shell out $480 each time they renewed their five-year passports, OFWs may now find the yoke even heavier, if the DFA pushes through with the plan to double the cost for the thicker and longer-lasting document.

These are the urgent issues of the day, just because there remains hope that they could still go the way the OFWs favor.

But at the back-burner - for now at least - are several longstanding issues, like the illegal and unconscionable placement fees still collected from OFWs, the failure of cash-rich OWWA to provide real benefits to OFW members, the ever-increasing charges imposed on Filipinos about to leave for work abroad, and many more.

While we appreciate the effort by some of our politicians to come and directly confer with us on our comcerns, we should not be left with the mere hope that something positive would come out of these meetings. We should insist not just on our right to be told of developments, but more so of our right to be consulted and heard before any.laws affecting us are passed.

Once the deed is done, it would be hard to insist on what should have been, Our long years of struggles over unfair, even oppressive impositions, are proof enough.

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