MIGRANTE SOUNDS ALARM: Duterte regime to amass hundreds of billions from forced SSS exactions on OFWs

OFW-group Migrante expressed its strongest opposition against the bicameral approval of the bill imposing the mandatory SSS for all OFWs.

From the Php 4.64 Billion worth of voluntary contributions garnered by SSS from OFWs in 2016, the amount is set to increase by 3000 % next year 2019. According to Migrante’s estimate, that would translate to Php 144 Billion in the first year of implementation alone.

Duterte Gatasang Baka

“The Duterte regime will be amassing hundreds of billions from SSS collections at the expense of OFWs who are already burdened by numerous state exactions. Forcing all OFWs to be covered as compulsory SSS members is outrageous since this exaction will be on top of the US$144 mandatory insurance recently enacted under the Duterte regime through POEA,” Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said.

Under the proposed Social Security Act of 2018, the mandatory SSS membership will include both sea-based and land-based OFWs as the monthly contribution rate is set to go up to 12 % or Php 2,400 per month in 2019. From then on, Migrante warned that it is expected to gradually increase reaching 15 % by 2025.

As early as March 2017, SSS president and chief executive Emmanuel F. Dooc has been pushing for its passage. In previous years, Migrante said that OFWs were successful in opposing the mandatory SSS contribution even during the early stages of the proposal way back in the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo up to the Aquino administration. Migrante deplores the bicameral approval as a railroading of the bill since no extensive consultations among OFWs were ever conducted by SSS.

The bill will necessitate the government to negotiate labor agreements with host countries to compel foreign employers to pay the required monthly contribution for OFWs.

“In the case that host countries refuse to get the compliance of foreign employers on this SSS scheme, OFWs themselves will be forced to fully pay for the entire monthly contribution rate. That is painful considering that many OFWs are enslaved through unpaid work besides suffering from other contract violations,” Hernando lamented.

Hernando likewise warned that this could incite antagonism from foreign employers against OFWs for just recently, POEA issued a resolution requiring employers to pay for the premium for the insurance coverage of returning OFWs.

Furthermore, Hernando also said that the outcome of this SSS scheme would likely be similar to the scandals that rocked the government in previous years due to the fat bonuses received by SSS executives.

“We are alarmed considering that in times past, huge sums of money from SSS collections have ended up as hefty perks and bonuses for government executives while SSS members have to content themselves with minuscule pensions and benefits. It is appalling that the Duterte regime had the temerity to push this bill just when the election campaign season is about to kick-start a few months from now. What impression are they trying to convey to OFWs and their families from this timing?” Hernando asserted.

Once the bill gets signed by Duterte, it will be the largest monetary accumulation imposed by the government on OFWs in the history of the Philippines’ labor export program. Migrante vowed to vigorously block the compulsory SSS contributions for OFWs.

“We will never allow this sinister policy to plunder our OFWs. This is the time for OFWs and their families to unite and resist this vicious attack against our subsistence. We have already demonstrated in the past that we can emerge victorious in our collective struggles. Together let us charge forward and strongly oppose this extortionate policy of the Duterte regime,” Hernando concluded.

Reject forced SSS exaction!

Proteksyon hindi koleksyon!

 

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In his talks with Jokowi, Duterte must address the plight of Mary Jane and other Filipina drug trafficking victims imprisoned in Indonesia — Migrante

As Duterte is expected to meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Bali today for the ASEAN Leaders’ Gathering, Migrante underscored the urgent need of discussing the case of Mary Jane Veloso as the OFW group is also monitoring the two other Filipina drug trafficking victims imprisoned in Indonesia.

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Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said, “On the back of having other Filipina victims of drug trafficking detained in Indonesia, it is all the more necessary for Duterte to explain to Jokowi the case of Mary Jane Veloso and finally allow her to testify against the international drug and human traffickers who victimized her.”

Even if the sentence on the other Filipina victim in Semarang was only life imprisonment, Migrante is adamant that Mary Jane’s testimony is crucial in setting the precedent to help all the victims of the international drug syndicates.

The group likewise revealed that the Indonesian government was surprised that despite the admission on Mary Jane’s innocence by trafficking suspects Maria Cristina Sergio and Julius Lacanilao, their conviction remains to be seen after the Court of Appeals junked Mary Jane’s right to deposition.

Relating his recent prison visit to Mary Jane in Indonesia last month, Arman Hernando said, “the Indonesian government is asking why it’s taking so long for Philippine authorities to hand down a conviction against traffickers Sergio and Lacanilao and why Mary Jane is still not allowed to testify.”

Hernando does not see Duterte’s seriousness in completely vanquishing the machinery of international drug and human trafficking syndicates.

“The Duterte government’s negligence in securing justice for Mary Jane and for the other trafficking victims perpetuates the privilege and immunity of big drug lords and traffickers. In fact, another Filipina drug trafficking victim is currently detained in a penitentiary right there in Bali where President Duterte is currently attending the ASEAN Leader’s meeting,” Hernando lamented.

President Duterte is set to return back to the Philippines tonight after the conclusion of the ASEAN Leaders’ event.

Bleeding OFWs dry: Migrant group in HK hits POEA order on mandatory insurance

“The new POEA order on mandatory insurance is just another money-making scheme for the already burdened OFWs that can very well even cost us our job.”

This was declared by Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK), regarding the POEA Governing Board Resolution No. 04 that enforces a mandatory insurance for OFWs.

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“Mandatory insurance is just another state exaction by the Duterte government from us who are already burdened by the soaring prices of goods in the Philippines and the rapid weakening of the peso. Employers in Hong Kong are already required by law to get insurance for their domestic workers. If they don’t get one, and something happens to their worker, employers will be liable and must make sure that they will be responsible for the expenses. The new mandatory insurance order will just add to the list of expenses that employers are made to pay for and will merely increase friction between the employer and worker,” Balladares-Pelaez explained.

Under the POEA governing board resolution, all returning OFWs with the same employer, or have moved to another, must register with POEA, they must provide a passport valid for at least 6 months, a valid working visa, and a certificate of insurance coverage similar to that required of those leaving for their first job abroad.

In the guidelines, it said that all returning overseas Filipino workers who are household service workers with new or renewed contract are required to pay an insurance that will cost USD144 or HK$1,200, before being allowed to return to their work sites.

Though the resolution says that the employer must pay, in reality, it is the workers who will be paying the insurance to prevent arguments with their employer.  “There is no mechanism to ensure that the employer will pay for it. This new fee might even lead to domestic workers losing their jobs because of tension with their employers. We already take home so little of our pay, yet you want to take away the equivalent of almost 30% of a month’s salary for this superfluous fee?” Balladares-Pelaez remarked.

The mandatory insurance came out in time for the coming midterm elections, which is few months from now. According to Balladares-Pelaez, “We cannot help but think that this collection is one way to accumulate more money for the elections.”

Balladares-Pelaez continued, “The Duterte government and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III are responsible for this additional fee for overseas Filipinos. Duterte and Bello are bleeding us dry. The longer they are in power, the more miserable the lives of the Filipino people, and especially migrants, are.”

“But we will not take this sitting down. Expect that we will meet the POEA governing board resolution no. 04 with a protest. We will make sure that this exaction will not push through. We will continue to fight until the mandatory insurance is scrapped!” Balladares-Pelaez concluded.

#BertizAlis: OFWs lodge complaints, want Bertiz out of Congress

As part of the #BertizAlis campaign initiated by Migrante, victims of ACTS OFW Partylist Rep. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III filed their complaints today as the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representative probes on the congressman’s misconducts. OFWs Shiela Mabunga and Emmanuel Villanueva submitted their testimonies detailing their harsh encounters with Rep. Bertiz.

ByeJohn For Online Petition

In Mabunga’s written testimony, it was in 2013 when she applied as a cook for Dubai at Keys Placement, a recruitment firm owned by Bertiz’ wife, however at midpoint, Mabunga’s documents were transferred to Bertiz’ agency Global Asia Alliance Consultants Inc. (GAACI) for processing.

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On her written testimony, Mabunga recounted the contract violations of GAACI. Instead of being deployed in 2014 to her real employer, Mabunga was instead picked up at the airport by a different employer from whom she suffered abuse and maltreatment. When half of her body was paralyzed due to her ordeal, her family sought help from the agency countless times but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Fearing for Mabunga’s life, her father filed a request for repatriation at POEA in February 2015.

It took four months before Rep. Bertiz met with Mabunga to negotiate with her employer. She begged Bertiz to take her back with him to the Philippines but her supplication was not granted. Instead, Bertiz persuaded her to return to work for her employer until the end of Ramadan. Bertiz likewise cajoled Mabunga promising her repatriation and assistance for her college education on the condition that she abstains from filing a case against his agency GAACI and her employer. Upon returning back to her employer, Mabunga underwent even more abuse and severe exploitation.

Finally in August 2015, Mabunga was repatriated back to the Philippines but none of the commitments made by the agency was ever fulfilled and Bertiz did not even show up in any of their hearings at POEA.

In 2016, Mabunga decided to file a case against Bertiz and his recruitment agency at POEA and NLRC.

“Tumagal na ng dalawang taon ang kaso ko, nahalal na lamang ang kaniyang partylist at naging kongresista na siya, ngunit hanggang ngayon ay wala pa ring linaw kung ano ang kahihinatnan ng aking kaso. Hanggang ngayon ay mailap pa rin sa akin ang hustisya.  Nakadadagdag sa aking hinagpis kapag nakikita ko siya sa telebisyon na umaastang maka-OFW at galit sa illegal recruiter dahil alam ko sa sarili ko na isa ako sa nabiktima ng kaniyang pagsasamantala sa OFW.  Na siya mismo ay sangkot sa illegal recruitment at isa sa mga taong hindi napapatawan ng kaparusahan sa kaniyang ginagawa,” Mabunga lamented.

Another OFW calling for Bertiz’ expulsion from Congress is Emmanuel Villanueva, an OFW in Hong Kong and Secretary General of UNIFIL-Migrante. In January 2017, Villanueva had an intense confrontation with Bertiz during a dialogue with Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglungsod. The dialogue was about the OFWs’ demand for the abolition of the overseas employment certificate (OEC). Despite being an uninvited guest, Bertiz took much of their time by lecturing on the need for the OEC and his proposed OFW ID which infuriated OFWs present at the meeting. Villanueva politely asked the lawmaker not to consume much of the time, only to be yelled at and accused of being an undocumented OFW.

Meanwhile, a petition for the removal of ACTS OFW Rep. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III was launched yesterday by OFWs. The petition enumerated compelling reasons for his expulsion. Number one on the list is “conflict of interest” since Bertiz is not an OFW but a big time recruiter who should not be recognized as a legitimate representative of OFWs. The petition likewise cited the irregularities of his agency as well as his disrespectful behaviour towards OFWs and their leaders during a dialogue in Hong Kong.

Petitioners denounced the congressman’s involvement in a botched rescue mission in Kuwait which endangered the lives of many OFWs. His relentless justification of the OEC and the OFW ID despite denouncements from OFW communities was likewise pointed out.

“Dahil dito, walang moral na awtoridad si Rep. Aniceto “John” D. Bertiz III na maging kinatawan namin sa Kongreso. Wala na ring dahilan para siya ay manatili pa sa kanyang katungkulan sa Kongreso,” the petition stated

“Bertiz is a fake OFW representative and habitual abuser of authority”

Hong Kong migrants call for the removal of “OFW” lawmaker

“ACTS-OFW representative Aniceto ‘John’ D. Bertiz III is not even an OFW. He is in fact an owner of one of Philippines’ biggest recruitment agencies. He is arrogant and disrespectful even to the people he claims to represent. He is a habitual abuser of authority.”

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This was the reaction of Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) after a video of Rep. Bertiz scolding and confiscating the ID of a Manila airport security screener who called Bertiz’ attention for passing through the security scanner without removing his shoes, went viral.

“It was Bertiz who violated the airport security protocol, a security measure that only the Philippine president can be exempted. The least he could have done is to humbly apologize and go through the security screening again,” said Balladares-Pelaez.

“But no! His trapo ego was so hurt that even after ignoring the security personal, he still went back just to scold him and illegally confiscate the poor man’s ID. That is a totally unacceptable behavior for someone who wants to be addressed as an ‘Honorable’ congressman,” Balladares-Pelaez averred.

Balladares-Pelaez also recalled UNIFIL-MIGRANTE’s personal experience of Bertiz’ arrogance.

“In January 2017, we sought a dialogue with Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Undersecretary Joel Maglungsod who was visiting Hong Kong to discuss our demands particularly the abolition of the overseas employment certificate (OEC). To our surprise, Rep. Bertiz also came to the said dialogue uninvited, spoke for almost 20 minutes and lectured us on the need for the OEC and that only his proposed “OFW ID” can replace the OEC,” Balladares-Pelaez said.

Balladares-Pelaez narrated how Bertiz got mad and raised his voice to UNIFIL-MIGRANTE secretary General Eman Villanueva who politely raised his hand wanting to tell Bertiz to not take so much of their time with Usec Joel Maglungsod who was yet to respond to their appeal. “We were all shocked when he shouted at Eman and falsely accused him of being an undocumented migrant after Eman exposed him as a recruitment agency owner,” she added.

The video of the “shouting match” between Bertiz and Villanueva posted by HKPinoyTV also went viral in Facebook. Recently, another video of Bertiz speaking in a mass oath-taking of agricultural and biosystems engineers went viral after he said that those who do not know Bong Go (special assistance to the president) will not get their license. In July this year, Bertiz and his wife were also implicated by an employment agency owner in a Php6.8 million corruption and bribery scandal in DOLE.

“He is not worthy to represent our sector in Congress. He is only representing himself and his kind – recruitment agencies. He is a power tripper and he thinks he can get away with it because of his closeness to Philippine Pres. Duterte and his personal assistant Sec. Bong Go,” Balladares-Pelaez stressed.

“Bertiz has crossed the line so many times. He should be punished by the House of Representatives for disorderly behaviour and be expelled from Congress,” Balladares-Pelaez concluded.

UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK is an alliance of more than 30 OFW associations fighting for the rights and welfare of migrant workers in the territory for more than 30 years.

 

For reference:

Dolores Balladares-Pelaez

Chairperson

UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK

 

Migrante challenges Duterte gov’t to back the call of domestic helpers in Hong Kong for HK$5,500 minimum wage

Migrante challenged the Duterte government to intercede on behalf of Hong Kong based Filipino household workers in their calls for a $5,500 minimum wage and a $2,500 monthly food allowance which were turned down by the Hong Kong government this week.

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“Dito tunay na masusukat ang malasakit ni Duterte sa mga OFW. The wage increase has long been overdue especially at a time when their families back home are reeling from the peso depreciation and inflation.  Kung hindi pa sa sama-samang pagkilos at pagigiit ng mga DH sa Hong Kong, napako na sana ang kanilang sahod sa US$400 na itinakda sa ilalim ng ‘Supermaid’ program ni Gloria Arroyo noong October 2006,” Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said.

Way back in 2016, Migrant groups in Hong Kong submitted to the Duterte administration their “Hongkong Migrants Agenda” which laid out their collective demands including the call for wage increase but there has never been any considerable action on the part of President Duterte, Hernando lamented.

In 2007, the minimum allowable wage in Hong Kong was only at HK$3,480. Since then, it has only been going up at a yearly average of less than HK$100 as “meager adjustments” made by the HK government to inflation and as their “token response” to the clamor of domestic workers, according to Migrante.

Starting today, the new minimum allowable wage is at HK$4,520 while the monthly food allowance goes up by HK$22 to HK$1,075 a month. These amounts are still far from the HK$5,500 minimum wage and the HK$2,500 monthly food allowance demanded by domestic workers in Hong Kong. They were hopeful that the approval of the HK$5,500 amount will make their minimum wage at least reasonably closer to Hong Kong’s living wage of HK$9,828.

Yesterday, different migrant groups in Hong Kong castigated the $110 monthly wage increase and the measly additional $22 food allowance for foreign domestic workers, calling it an “insult.”

Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body said, “It’s because the government keeps insisting on making ‘affordability’ (or the capability of an employer to hire a domestic helper) a factor in determining how much we should make in a month. But what about the migrant worker’s right to earn a living wage?”

Migrante vowed to heighten its actions in pushing the Philippine government to address their call to end the imposition of “slave wage” rates to Filipino domestic workers worldwide.

On the deployment ban on Micronesia

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While we acknowledge that POEA’s deployment ban to Micronesia might seem to prevent further abuse, Migrante sees that it may result in the increased vulnerability of Filipino workers to human trafficking and illegal recruitment like what happened to numerous domestic helpers during the deployment ban in Kuwait and the UAE. Abuses continue even after the ban was lifted.

POEA’s instant recommendation to affected workers that they may still apply for jobs in the UK, Saudi Arabia or Japan indicates the government’s unpreparedness to absorb even a small OFW community of 2,000 workers in our local labour market at a time when a greater crisis in the Middle East is already on-going.

As the main enforcer of the Duterte administration’s labour export program, POEA’s pursuit of extracting income from maltreated and unpaid OFWs from Micronesia by driving them away to other countries for deployment is truly lamentable.