State of Migrants Under Aquino: Broken promises, more tragedies Worst year, bleak future ahead for OFWs, says group  

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International today said that President Benigno Aquino III’s first year in office is arguably the worst year for OFWs.

Migrante International joined other sectors in today’s People SONA protest. Its chapters in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Middle East, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US also held simultaneous protest actions against Aquino’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“Since Aquino took his oath it has been especially more grueling for OFWs and their families. He specifically promised to give special attention to OFWs in his inaugural speech but what we have experienced is the complete opposite. Aquino’s first year may just be the worst year for OFWs and their families, and policy-wise, there are no indications that things will get better,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

Below is an enumeration of administration’s so-called “plan of action” for OFWs and what actually transpired during Aquino’s first year in office:

Aquino committed to create jobs at home and to uphold the policy of not pursuing overseas employment as a development strategy and instead establish concrete policies and steps towards more sustainable alternatives.

The number of Filipino workers jobless and not earning enough from their jobs has risen to 12 million in April 2011. The government offers nothing concrete for tens of thousands of returned OFWs from Libya and the possible influx of hundreds of thousands more from the Middle East in light of the Saudization policy. Instead, it continues to showcase a more blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that aims to further exploit OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances.

 Aquino promised to prioritize the protection of OFWs and their families.

In his first year, Aquino failed to address the immediate evacuation and repatriation of OFWs affected by conflicts in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East-North Africa region, and also those affected by calamities and disasters in Japan and New Zealand.

For the first time in years, three Filipinos were executed simultaneously in China, and the number of Filipinos in death row increased from 108 to 122.

Aquino performed inconsiderate blunders and diplomatic faux pas that threatened the well-being of OFWs in Hong Kong (Manila hostage tragedy), Taiwan (deportation of Taiwanese nationals to China) and China (Spratley’s issue).

Aquino committed to improve and enhance the government’s services and resources for OFWs and their families.

Budgets for the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) and Assistance to Nationals (ATN) in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) budget suffered an unprecedented decrease in 2010, while 7,000 Filipinos are languishing in jails abroad without legal assistance and at least 20,000 are stranded and awaiting repatriation.

Government neglect and insensitivity was highlighted by the case of abusive Hong Kong Labor Attache Romulo Salud, as well as the failure to hold accountable erring and negligent officials and ambassadors under the previous administration.

During Aquino’s first year, more fee impositions and state exactions were implemented, namely, the mandatory Pag-Ibig contribution, the increase in e-Passport fees, mandatory insurance coverage, affidavit of support, and other requirements for the Overseas Employment Contract (OEC).

Aquino promised to audit the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to rationalize the management of its funds, in terms of benefits provided as well as how the funds are invested.

Aquino failed to investigate allegations of misuse and corruption of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds. The plunder case filed against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for misuse and corruption of OWWA funds, for instance, was initiated by private citizens and organizations and not the Aquino administration.

Aquino vowed to strengthen reintegration programs for returning migrants and facilitate their return by favorable terms of investment, tax incentives, access to government financial institutions and other benefits.

There is a lack of a comprehensive and sustainable program for returned OFWs and their families. What the government offers are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages and lack of social services.

Returned OFWs are complaining about the P2 billion OWWA reintegration fund inaugurated by Aquino on June 7 because of its strict requirements for collateral and onerous interest rates. Most of the government’s reintegration programs for returned OFWs are made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs.

“These are glaring examples of how insincere, insensitive and inept the Aquino government is in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs, while ironically also showcasing a more blatant and unapologetic labor export policy that exploits OFWs’ cheap labor and foreign remittances. Through these all, it has become more apparent that Aquino is no different from Arroyo, pareho lang sila negosyo sa halip na serbisyo, koleksyon sa halip na proteksyon para sa mga OFW.” ###