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Cayetano promises ‘faster, cheaper’ 10-year passports for overseas Pinoy workers

17 July 2017

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano addresses the Filipino community at the Consulate.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has promised overseas Filipino workers he would try to get the best deal so the new, 10-year passport could be delivered to them “faster but cheaper”.

He also said the Duterte government is talking to several countries in its bid to find new markets for OFWs so they can have a wider choice of opportunities other than domestic work.

Cayetano spoke before about 250 leaders and members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong on July 2, when he stopped over after a visit to Beijing.

The foreign secretary tried to dispel concerns among workers that the new passport will cost double the current fee of $480.

The new price was quoted in an interview in Manila earlier by a spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who justified the higher price by saying the new passport will be of better quality and will have double the number of pages.

During an earlier dialogue with militant leaders in Hong Kong, Cayetano reportedly belied this report, saying the new passport will only cost more if the applicant asks for the one with more pages.

Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body said his group asked if the passports issued abroad could be priced the same as those in the Philippines, where each costs only Php980 ($150 at current exchange rate).

Cayetano reportedly promised to look into why the passport costs so much higher abroad, and if there is a way to make it lower. However, he did not make any firm promises on how much the new passport would cost.

At the forum, Cayetano said a smart chip will be embedded in the passport cover containing the details of its holder, so one need not go through the tedious application process again when applying for a renewal. However, this does not apply for those who are below 18 years old, who will still be issued passports valid for five years.

Cayetano delivered to the Consulate two additional data-capture machines that he said would speed up the processing of passport applications. The passport section previously had four data-capture machines that could process only 220 applicants on Sunday, the busiest day of the week. With six, it can now process 330 applicants.

The bill providing for the new 10-year passport has already been passed by both houses of Congress, and is now waiting to be signed into law by the President. But before the new passports could be issued, the implementing rules and regulations for implementing the new law will have to be crafted and published first.

The official also said the Department of Foreign Affairs is going to address the problem  of offloading of relatives of Hong Kong OFWs by holding a dialogue with relevant  government agencies including the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration  and monitoring offloading incidents on a weekly and monthly basis to know how many  were being offloaded and whether the ejections are justified or not.

Cayetano reiterated President Duterte’s goal of securing peace and stability by eliminating drugs, terrorism, conflicts, criminality and corruption, and direct threat in order to speed up economic development, which would generate more jobs quality jobs  in the country so that Filipinos need not leave their families behind to work abroad.        

“The more that we help (Duterte), the more we support him, the more that we have peace, stability and development in our country, the faster that every Filipino will have a quality job in our country,” Cayetano said.

He said he was under instructions from the President to give priority to the welfare, rights, comfort and convenience of OFWs.

In the open forum, community leaders raised other issues including the abolition of the  overseas employment certificate, pressing the Hong Kong government to bring its labor standards for foreign domestic workers up to par with those for local workers, and  opening new labor markets for OFWs.

Cayetano cited Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s promise to introduce the iDOLE  multipurpose OFW ID card soon to replace the OEC. As for labor standards, he said OFWs should not expect too much from their host countries, saying each place has its  own set of standards.

He said that by opening new labor markets, the government wants OFWs to move up the  value chain by upgrading their skills and finding suitable markets for them so they do not  get stuck in Hong Kong, where they can only work as domestic helpers.

Consul General Bernardita Catalla said the Consulate was quietly pressing Hong Kong, through the Technical Working Group, on the welfare of workers.

One accomplishment she credits to the Consulate was the introduction into the standard work contract of a ban on the cleaning of window exteriors by helpers. She also cited the HKSAR’s recent move to crack down on rogue job agencies by penalizing them with jail terms and hefty fines.

The workers also aired complaints against the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration  for its alleged selective scholarship, member hospitalization issues, and missing membership certificates, all of which OWWA welfare officer Judith Santos addressed.

One Filcom leader proposed more government-run shelters for terminated OFWs, and  Cayetano said that issue could be addressed when budget allocations were discussed with the Department of Budget Management.

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