On the anniversary of the historic Cry of Pugadlawin, Migrante International today trooped to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila to protest the recent increase in e-passport fees and other onerous fee impositions on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, “Today is a very significant day for our OFWs. Like our heroes did in the Cry of Pugadlawin, let today mark how our OFWs, mga tinagurian nating bagong bayani, are fed up, angry and ready to fight abusive state policies.”
E-passport petition drive
Earlier, Migrante International launched an internationally-coordinated petition drive calling to stop e-passport fee hikes and to investigate DFA Sec. Alberto Romulo for alleged anomalies in the e-passport procurement contract.
The new e-passport now costs P950 to P1,200 from P550 to P750 in the Philippines, while e-passport costs have risen abroad to as much as thrice as the previous rates and approximately $6 (USD) more than the fee prescribed for e-passports in the Philippines.
The petition was launched in light of allegations that the contract entered into by Romulo for the procurement of the new e-passport is illegal and tainted with corruption.
Martinez said that in a span of a few weeks since they launched the petition drive, they have gathered thousands of signatures from disgruntled OFWs from different parts of the world.
In Hong Kong alone, Martinez said that their chapter had already gathered 16,000 signatures which they have already submitted to the Philippine Consulate. “The petition signatures were received by no less than Vice Consul Val Roque who is also the head of the passport division of the Consulate in Hong Kong. As of press time, the petition is still ongoing and gaining more support in Hong Kong.”
He added that at least a thousand signatures have come in from the Middle East a week after they launched the petition in the region. “They started gathering signatures at the start of the Ramadan and they are still collating signatures as we speak from Khobar, Riyadh Central and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Israel and Libya where there are heavy concentrations of OFWs.”
“Here in the home front, we have also circulated the petition in OFW communities, care-giving, nursing and maritime schools, as well as consortia of recruitment agencies. So far, the response has been overwhelming. We expect to gather as much as 50,000 signatures from OFWs, their families and advocates all over the world by early September,” he said.
Martinez said that they are still awaiting feedback from their chapters in United States, Canada, Italy, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Taiwan and Denmark whom have just recently launched their own petition drive in their respective areas.
Onerous and unnecessary state exactions
Martinez also called on the government to stop other onerous and unnecessary fee impositions on OFWs.
Recently, Migrante protested the mandatory collection of Pag-Ibig contributions, calling it another form of ‘legalized kotong.’
The POEA recently released Memorandum Circular 06-2010 (MC06-2010) compelling OFWs to pay, upon registration and deployment, an initial membership contribution of P600 for six months as a pre-requisite for the issuance of their Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). MC06-2010 was effective last August 1 as a result of Republic Act 9679, or the Home Development Mutual Fund Law of 2009, placing informal sectors under mandatory coverage of the Pag-Ibig fund.
After widespread complaints from OFWs, however, Vice President and Housing head Jejomar Binay ordered the POEA to suspend of the memorandum a few days after its implementation.
“While this development is an initial triumph for OFWs, we are still not assured that the POEA would lift the suspension. Also, since the law is still in effect, OFWs are still compelled to pay a mandatory P100 per month Pag-Ibig fee,” he said.
Aside from the Pag-Ibig contributions, Martinez said, OFWs are also burdened with other mandatory fees such as the $25 OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) membership fee, P900 Philhealth, P100 processing fee and other charges, on top of placement fees and other costs.
He added that the recently amended Migrants Act or Republic Act 10022 now stipulates a mandatory health insurance the costs of which may also be imposed on OFWs.
“Tama na, sobra na, tigilan na ang pangongotong sa mga OFW. Kung talagang tinuturing kaming mga bagong bayani ng gobyerno, asikasuhin nila ang mga hinaing at panawagan ng ating mga OFW kaysa ang tuluy-tuloy na pangongotong,” he said.
Martinez said that instead of institutionalizing mandatory fees, the government should prioritize the provision of legal support and welfare aid to OFWs in distress especially those in death row, in jail, stranded and in need of immediate repatriation. ###