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OFW leader and party-list rep in near-fisticuffs at POLO

30 January 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

An irate Villanueva accuses Berlitz of not being pro-OFW
Berlitz tells Villanueva he is an undocumented worker
Militant OFW leader Eman Villanueva and ACTS-OFW Party-List Representative Aniceto “John” Bertiz nearly came to blows at the office of Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre yesterday, Jan. 29, during talks on the overseas employment certificate (OEC).
Villanueva, along with fellow members of United Filipinos – Migrante Hong Kong were at the office for a scheduled meeting with Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello who, however, was unable to come because of an emergency trip to Kuwait to visit an OFW on death row.
He sent in his place Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, who came with Bertiz.
Unifil asked for the meeting after protesting earlier in the day for the scrapping of the OEC and the integration of the airport terminal fee in the air tickets purchased by OFWs.
From the start, Bertiz had tried to dominate the talks, and took pains to explain that the OEC was necessary to distinguish between a documented and an undocumented worker.
Unifil chairperson Dolo Balladares countered that there was no such need, as all legitimate or documented OFWs have a work visa and a contract to prove their status.
This was affirmed by Villanueva and the other OFW leaders present who told Maglunsod of the many problems encountered by OFWs recently in the wake of the revised policy on the OEC. Instead of acquiring an OEC outright, OFWs were forced to create an online account so they could avail of an OEC exemption, for which they still had to pay the $20 fee.
When he finally had his turn to speak, Bertiz talked at length about the need to build a government data base, and eventually come up with a “one-time OFW ID”.
“Ito na siguro ang kasagutan para tanggalin na yung OEC”, he said
But in the meantime, he said the OEC is necessary to stop human trafficking and other irregularities, including cases of OFWs who change their identities just so they could continue working abroad.
He also hinted that there was no longer a need for OFWs to take to the streets to get their sentiments known because they already have allies inside government.
“Ang kaibahan lang ngayon may kakampi na tayo sa loob, lalo-lalo na ang Presidente (Rodrigo) Duterte”, he said
Bertiz spoke continuously for about 12 minutes until Villanueva tried to stop him, to which the lawmaker snapped: “Patapusin mo muna ako, you had your turn kanina”.
In contrast, Maglunsod was cool
An irate Villanueva countered: “Kayo na ang umubos sa oras namin. Kami ay nakipag-meeting sa DOLE at hindi sa inyo”.
Berlitz replied: “Pareho lang tayong OFW. Hindi ako naiiba sa inyo, OFW din ako”.
This appeared to irk Villanueva even more that he replied with, “Hindi ka OFW, ikaw ay agency owner”.
This appeared to hit home because Bertiz, who worked as an office clerk in Saudi Arabia for five years, now sits as president and CEO of Global Asia Alliance Consultant Inc., said to be one of the biggest recruitment agencies in the Philippines
Their fight then degenerated into Bertiz accusing Villanueva of being an undocumented worker after the latter said he did not owe his job to an agency, and the latter telling the former of being arrogant just because he had won a a seat in congress.
By this time, the two were already shouting at each other, and had to be restrained by people around them so they wouldn’t come to blows.
Eventually, the leaders decided to walk out on Bertiz but agreed to continue talking to Maglunsod in another room.
The dialogue proceeded smoothly then, with the labor official telling the OFW leaders to immediately draft a petition letter addressed directly to President Duterte, explaining their concerns over the OEC, the terminal fee, and the OWWA membership fee.

The latter issue was added after Maglunsod was told that the implementing guidelines for the 2016 OWWA Act, which provides for a fixed term of two years for OWWA membership, has yet to be issued.   

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