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A Department of OFWs

Migrante International, the biggest global organization of Filipino overseas Filipinos with over 200 member organizations in 23 countries, prepared a position paper that presents and outlines the changes that overseas Filipino workers want to see under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

The lengthy document starts off with a background of the situation of OFWs under the six years of the BS Aquino government, including the intensification of the labour export policy, complete with updated facts and figures. It tackles the issues of forced migration; the reality of record-high poverty and joblessness; and the many anti-OFW policies. Examples of these are the government neglect of OFWs in distress (e.g.  those in death row and in jail, those stranded, those victimized by illegal recruitment and trafficking), budget cuts, state exactions, a severely lacking rights and welfare program, and the misuse, abuse and corruption of OWWA funds.

After a discussion of the situation of OFWs, Migrante International presents a 10-point list of action items that the President Duterte can implement within the 100 days of this presidency. The points are clear, citing specific laws and executive orders. Much thought, research, and forward thinking and vision are in these firm suggestions.

I would like to highlight one of the sections that would be of much interest to migrant Filipinos and that is the Duterte-proposed creation of a Department of OFWs.

Here is what Migrante International has to say on this Department of OFWs:

“Indeed, there has been a growing clamor among OFWs for a ‘one-stop shop’ that would cater to the protection and promotion of OFW rights and welfare. The present ‘one -country-approach’ being implemented by agencies tasked to provide direct services to OFWs, namely, the DFA, DOLE, OWWA and POEA, has been dysfunctional and inoperative  to the detriment of OFWs, especially those in distress. Migrante International therefore sees and appreciates the rationale behind President-Elect Duterte’s pronouncement of establishing a “Department of OFWs” that seeks to systematize, consolidate and strengthen government efforts to protect our OFWs.

Migrante International is not against the formation of a “Department of OFWs” per se, but it forwards its serious apprehensions on the basis of its evaluation of the performances of existing agencies concerned with dealing with OFW services and welfare. Fundamentally, Migrante International has been committed to the advance the rights and welfare of OFWs and their families as well as to work for a just and prosperous society that will eliminate the roots of forced migration and put a decisive end to the labor export policy.

It is in this light that Migrante International poses the challenge that the formation of a “Department of OFWs” should not work to merely further institutionalize labor export, and instead address the decades-long clamor of OFWs and their families to put an end to it.”

Here are the numbers:  there are15 million overseas Filipinos and an estimated 6,000 Filipino men and women leaving the country daily to work abroad. OFW remittances, which keep the Philippine economy afloat and the lid on social and economic unrest firmly shut, reached $26 billion in 2014, which is nine per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.

“Filipinos are being forced to migrate because of desperation borne out of the economy’s lack of development resulting in job loss, low wages and lack of livelihood at home. OFWs have borne witness to how insincere, insensitive and inept past governments have been in upholding and securing the protection and welfare of OFWs…

The changes OFWs want to see in the six-year Duterte presidency include 10 million sustainable domestic jobs in six years; an end  to contractualization of domestic labor; a genuine reintegration program for retiring OFWs and a public and universal pension system; a fast, efficient and more accessible venues for redress for OFWs in distress, here and abroad; competent and OFW-friendly embassy and department officials; a rights-based bilateral labor and immigration agreements with labor-receiving countries;  justice and indemnification for all victims of illegal recruitment and trafficking; and, an end to all schemes and government policies that treat OFWs as mere milking cows.”

(I would like to add that the process and procedures of overseas voting by OFWs in Philippine elections need to be reviewed to make it accessible, easy, and more democratic. The voting process and procedures should not be disincentives to the exercise of the right to vote by our kababayan; otherwise what we have is procedural unfairness or disenfranchisement.)

Migrante International firmly believes in a “Department of OFWs” that is committed and oriented to the rights and welfare of OFWs and in creating an economy that will ensure that there are decent and sustainable jobs, with living wages so that workers can have dignified and decent lives.

Migrante International and its member chapters abroad will continue to work for genuine participation and representation of OFWs in the Philippine government.  For the complete document, please visit www.migranteinternational.org , the website of Migrante International.

Tinig Migrante by E. Maestro