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Time to consult

06 February 2017

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

A visiting Filipino community leader from Singapore pointed out something we should have taken notice of a long time ago. In a message, she asked why, at around 9pm, there were so many Filipino domestic workers sleeping near the MTR station in Wanchai.

At first we thought she was referring to asylum seekers, having seen some of them, all male South Asians, camping it out in the underpass near the Happy Valley race course.

But on second thought the assumption couldn’t have been right. Filipinas rarely, if ever, could be seen roughing it out on the streets, given the number of shelters set up for their benefit all over the territory. Plus, fellow Pinoys are not likely to turn their backs on needy members of the community. Someone is bound to help them find a place to stay, or offer their own room, no matter how tiny.

Then it hit me. These were the women whose pictures I would sometimes see on Facebook; those who queue up for hours on end just to ensure they get to process their work contracts or extend their visa at the Immigration headquarters nearby.

From other stories we learned that our OFWs begin staking their position in the Immigration queue as early as 7pm. But even after waiting in line, sometimes amid punishing weather conditions, not all of them end up lucky. The walk-in quota is limited, so those who don’t make the cut-off are either told to go back on another day, or avail of the drop-in processing service.

But what is even more surprising is why this phenomenon has taken hold in our community at all.
Immigration, like most government offices that provide service to large groups of people, employs an appointment system, where the exact date and time when one can expect to be served, is indicated.
This is meant to ease precisely, the hassle of queuing for hours just to be attended to. They also offer an efficient drop-in service.

But this was not the biggest surprise. During a casual conversation, I learned that the Consulate was not even aware that this was happening.

That points to an even bigger problem that should be resolved soon: the lack of regular and direct communication between the Consulate and members of our community.

This, along with most of the recent issues we have encountered concerning our OFWs, could have been avoided if not resolved, had our government representatives thought it wise to resume the consultations we used to have with them on a regular basis.

Among these, the confusion over when the new blue contract should be used instead of the old green one; the recent delay in the release of new passports; even the widespread resistance to signing up online for the so-called OEC exemption.

If these issues were brought up for discussion directly with leaders of the community, many of whom have the benefit of past experiences to give sound advice or suggestion, some of the problems could have been eased. Or, at the very least, those adversely affected would have known that something was being done to address their concerns.

We are lucky to have with us now a Consulate that is responsive and genuinely concerned about the plight of members of our community.

But casual and hurried appearances at community events just won’t do, given the myriad problems that have sprouted in recent weeks. Our government representatives must again sit down and listen to the community, and the time is now.

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