On Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families need to hear the administration’s concrete plans on its thrust of making overseas employment “optional and not a necessity”, as well as on its promise to place OFWs as a top priority in its labor agenda.
Migrante International earlier welcomed Duterte’s announcement that one of the main reasons of Filipinos being torn apart is the phenomenon of forced migration. There are currently 15 million overseas Filipinos and at least 6,000 leave the country daily to work abroad. Filipino workers are being forced to migrate and be separated from their families because of desperation and the need to survive. The economy’ lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and contractualization, poverty, landlessness and poor social services continue to drive them away.
It is a tragic consequence when our labor force is uprooted from their families, forced to endure unfair labor practices and abuses, and in some cases, suffer death, in exchange for cheap labor because of government failure to address forced migration and stop the policy of labor export. We agree with Pres. Duterte in the analysis that in order to totally eradicate forced migration there is a need to generate more stable jobs in the country. In order to achieve this, his administration should work and strive for a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace. How he plans to achieve this is what we need to hear in his first SONA.
The plight of OFWs and their families is not isolated from the struggle of other marginalized and neglected sectors. The problem of forced migraton is deeply rooted in the fundamental problems of Philippine society. Our struggle for dignity, rights and welfare, against government neglect and against forced migration plays a very important role in the struggle for genuine freedom and national democracy.
This is why Migrante fully supports the resumption of the GPH-NDF peace talks. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to forced migration and to end the labor export program. These are the fundamental changes and reforms that OFWs and their families need in a Duterte presidency.
We commend Pres. Duterte for immediately having exemplified political will on issues that have plagued our OFWs during the past Aquino administration. His sweeping move to put a stop the to tanim-bala extortion scheme is a stark contrast to how Aquino effectively further emboldened notorious syndicates and their coddlers in government by refusing to even acknowledge their existence. We hope that this initial step leads to a thorough investigation of all involved so that perpetrators may be held accountable.
Moreover, the Duterte administration’s recognition that there indeed is an ongoing huge crisis affecting our OFWs in Saudi Arabia is a far cry from the Aquino government’s attempts to downplay it. Through Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III, the Duterte administration has demonstrated a no-nonsense hands-on approach to address the call for an emergency mass repatriation of tens of thousands of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia. We welcome Sec. Bello’s announcement of the immediate recall of two negligent labor attaches in Saudi Arabia, as well as the government’s promise to provide emergency financial assistance to distressed OFWs and their families.
Now comes the real and present problem of the need for a comprehensive reintegration program for our OFWs. What awaits tens of thousands of OFWs in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough domestic jobs available. Past administrations’ so-called reintegration programs have been meager dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages, contractualization and lack of social services. The past government’s reintegration program for returned OFWs were merely made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs.
One such example is the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) “Balik-Pinas” reintegraton program. It has been deemed an insult to OFWs, funded by OFWs’ USD$200 contributions per contract but being held hostage by the OWWA Board. These loan packages and “starter kits” are not accessible to distressed OFWs and have done nothing to sustain them upon their return.
Over the years, the OWWA funds have been met with controversy due to allegations of corruption and government abuse and misuse. Despite these, the OWWA funds have not been subjected to a full audit and no public accounting of how the funds were used has been available to OFWs. We call on Pres. Duterte to conduct a full audit of the OWWA funds and to re-open investigation of all unresolved cases of corruption of the welfare funds.
Aside from the OWWA, we have also forwarded to the Duterte administration our serious criticisms of the performances and orientation of existing government agencies in charge of dealing with OFW services and affairs. For these agencies to be able to address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families for better welfare services, they should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export but instead truly commit to advance the rights and welfare of OFWs, as well as work for a just and prosperous society that will eliminate the root causes of forced migration and put an end to it.
Indeed, the Duterte administration has been off to a good start, and we wish to see more sweeping reforms and resolute actions in his first 100 days. We specifically call for Pres. Duterte’s urgent attention (1) on the case of Mary Jane Veloso who remains on death row in Indonesia, and others like her who have been victimized by drug traffickers and illegal recruitment syndicates but have received no legal assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); (2) on the immediate recall of all notorious abusive and erring embassy officials; (3) on the quick resolution of illegal recruitment and trafficking cases filed by countless OFW victims at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC); and, (4) on the scrapping of unnecessary fees that are viewed by our OFWs as nothing but “legalized kotong”, such as Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), among others.
Ultimately, what OFWs and their families need to hear in Pres. Duterte’s first SONA is how he plans to decisively deviate from the labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. It is high time the government reviews past governments’ recourse to chronically seek job markets abroad in exchange for remittances despite the ongoing global crisis and to the detriment of OFWs and their families. This cycle has got to end.
Migrante firmly believes that the Duterte administration should be committed and oriented towards these goals. We remain very open to work closely with the Duterte administration to ensure that this thrust is realized in the next six years. ###