Overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) are up in arms against a proposed bill in Congress resurrecting a notorious Marcos-imposed “forced remittance” decree and reinforcing punitive provisions on remittances in the Labor Code.
The partylist OFW Family recently passed House Bill No. 3576, or “An Act Authorizing Ambassadors, Consul Generals, Chiefs of Missions or Charge d’ Affairs to order and direct an overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to send support to his or her legal dependents as required by existing laws”.
HB 3576 requires all land-based and sea-based OFWs to send in regular remittances through the “Philippine banking system or any authorized credit unions, money transfer operators or through the postal mail” or else suffer penalties. Likewise, private recruitment agencies are authorized to facilitate and “assist OFWs in the remittance of their foreign exchange earnings”.
Section 5 of the HB 3576 further directs PH authorities abroad“to withhold the renewal or approval of the passport of an erring OFW unless proof of compliance of the remittance requirement” is submitted.
According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante Sectoral Party, HB 3576 is a ressurection of Marcos’ draconian Executive Order 857 which was protested widely by OFWs around the world. “Nag-aala-Marcos itong si Rep. Seneres, shame on him for once again shoving this down our throats. It is a blast from the past and a slap in the face of OFWs around the world who are already knee-deep in debt and barely coping with the global economic crisis.”
Marcos’ EO 857 compelled OFWs to remit 50-70% of their total monthly earnings. The decree also prohibited the use of non-banking channels such as the “padala” system, and restricted OFWs to remit “only through government-authorized channels”. Those who failed to do so faced punitive acts such as losing their rights to renew their contracts and passports, thus effectively banning OFWs from eligibly working overseas.
EO 857 effectively superceded and fortified Article 22 of the Labor Code stipulating a mandatory remittance of foreign exchange earnings for OFWs.
Bragas-Regalado further criticized Seneres for his “double-faced posturing”, recalling that Seneres was one of those opposed to the same punitive measures when he was commissioner of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
“We were in the same meeting, in the same congressional hearing years ago, asking for the review of the mandatory remittance and its punitive provisions in the Labor Code. Why the change of heart now? Is his partylist connected to big remittance centers or recruitment agencies? These agencies will solely stand to benefit from this forced remittance bill, not OFWs and their families,” she said.
In 1985, the punitive provisions in the Labor Code were repealed following widespread protests from OFWs and their families worldwide. On May 1, 1985, Marcos was forced to issue EO 1021, abolishing the punitive provisions of EO 857 and declaring the “padala” system legal. The OFW movement against forced remittances gave birth to the formation of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL) from its precursor United Filipino Against Forced Remittance (UNFARE).
Bragas-Regalado said that Seneres’ house bill clearly manifests “how he and his partylist are obviously not in tune with the interests of OFWs”. “It is stupid, unnecessary and obviously just another money-making scheme. It was precisely the previous forced remittance law that further drove OFWs in deeper debt. It gave rise to the proliferation of loansharks and lending institutions that fed on the desperation of OFWs. Sagad-sa-buto ang pangungutang ng mga OFW nang ipatupad ang batas na iyon. Laluna na ngayong ang sitwasyon ng mga OFW ay baon na nga sa utang bago pa man makarating sa ibang bansa.”
She said that Seneres should stop portraying himself as a “representative” of OFWs. “Clearly and certainly, he and his partylist do not have OFWs’ interests and welfare at heart. It is more evident now that Seneres is toeing the line of the BS Aquino regime in institutionalizing state exactions and more taxes on OFWs to salvage the ailing economy. Like Marcos, BS Aquino is now banking on revenue from OFW remittances to cope with alarming fiscal deficits and huge external debt, alongside the government’s incapacitiy to generate much-needed income due to massive corruption and misgovernance.”
Bragas-Regalado said that they are prepared to oppose HB 3576 in Congress and in the streets. “We were able to scrap the law before. We can do it again. Let this serve as a warning to all proponents and masterminds of this bill.” ###