OFWs welcome creation of new agency, but prefer DOJ head as chair

An international alliance of overseas Filipino workers today said that the proposed executive order to form a new agency for OFWs is “well-meaning save for its composition.”

Justice secretary Leila de Lima recently gave her approval to a proposed EO for the creation of a Consultative Council on Overseas Filipinos (CCOF) for the protection and promotion of OFWs’ rights.

According to the proposed EO, the CCOF will be headed by the DOLE, initially co-chaired for the first three months by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), and the POEA will serve as secretariat. Subsequently, co-chairmanship will be rotated among members of the CCOF Civil Society Organization (CSO) members.

Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez said, “We welcome the intent, especially since we have long been dismayed with performance of agencies in charge of providing welfare services and assistance to our OFWs, such as the DFA, POEA and OWA. We, however, oppose the proposed structure of the agency. We would prefer that full chairmanship be granted to the DOJ instead. ”

Martinez said that DOLE Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz, who was former Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), was incompetent and heartless in addressing labor-related concerns of OFWs during her term.

He recounted how Baldoz failed to attend to the plight of OFW nurses who approached the POEA for support in their case against Sentosa Care, a company which runs nursing facilities in the United States. “She even slept through the accounts of the victims on the one occasion that she granted them audience,” Martinez said.

In 2006, 27 Filipino nurses and physical therapists sued Sentosa Care after resigning due to unfair labor practices and “involuntary servitude”. They also filed an administrative case before the POEA against the Sentosa offices in Manila and their representatives but Baldoz failed to act on the complaint.

“Baldoz refused to grant the nurses’ petition to close down Sentosa, saying that ‘there were thousands of jobs at the pipeline’. This understandably angered the victims as they approached the POEA with the intention of preventing other Filipinos from suffering as they had,” he said.

Under Baldoz’ term, he said, numerous cases of unfair labor practices were unresolved. “She clearly favored foreign and business interests over the rights and welfare of OFWs.”

“How can we now entrust the welfare and rights of our OFWs to the kind of incompetence and neglect that Baldoz had so far displayed? And now we want her to head yet another OFW agency? That is preposterous.”

Martinez said that they would be more amenable to a DOJ chairmanship in light of Sec. de Lima’s positive human rights record.

He also said that the executive branch should also make public the composition of the PMRW and the CCOF COS “so that we may know if they are really representative of OFWs and their families.”

“The executive branch should first consult with stakeholders, namely, OFW organizations and families of migrants to better ensure that the proposed agency would really address the rights and welfare of migrants. The last thing we need is another agency that is no different from the DFA, POEA and even the OWWA when it comes to providing much-needed service and assistance to our OFWs and their families,” said Martinez.

He said that they would seek a dialogue with DOJ Sec. de Lima to convey their inquiries and concerns with regard to the proposed EO. ###