WITH over eight million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remitting more than $10 billion to the country each year, the Philippines is touted as a “global model” in labor migration.

But the reality besetting majority of migrant workers has limited this concept of a “global model” to deployment figures only. In terms of upholding and protecting the rights of Filipinos abroad, the country is a far cry from being the perfect example.

Even with laws and numerous offices mandated to serve the needs of OFWs, many Filipinos almost always find themselves prone to various forms of injustices with little or no realization at all of the rights guaranteed to them by national and international instruments.

Examining the policies as well as the performance of government agencies that make up this so-called global model is imperative and urgent, according to the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) at a forum last Friday.

Since 2004, CMA and FES have been holding the Alfredo J. Ganapin (AJG) Advocacy Forum Series, a quarterly public forum that seeks to explore issues affecting OFWs, engaging the government, civil-society groups, and the migrant community.

The recent gathering was a culmination of the 17 previous forums which have produced recommendations in various areas of concern ranging from specific migrant groups (domestic helpers, seafarers, nurses and OFW families) to local and international instruments (Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, Magna Carta for Seafarers, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers).

‘On track, off track’

It seems very easy for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take pride in Filipinos working abroad, acknowledging them every year in her state of the nation address. After all, one million overseas jobs per year is the only target on track in her Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) 2004-2010.

In 2007, a total of 1,007,623 Filipinos have been deployed abroad. As of June 2008, about 64 percent of the one-million target has already been achieved.

Sources: CFO / DFA / POEA /4th State of Population Report

However, the government’s aggressive labor export policy is at odds with Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, the main legislation that is supposed to comprehensively protect and promote the rights of Filipinos living and working abroad.

RA 8042 declares that the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development. The State, the law says, “therefore, shall continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.”

But the increase in overseas deployment, said CMA executive director Ellene Sana, has manifested the worsening employment situation and consequent poverty in the country. The other MTPDP target of 1.6 million new jobs per year is way off track with only 700,000 actual jobs created in 2005 and 599,000 in 2007.

Abuses against OFWs

RA 8042 also provides that the existence of the overseas employment program rests solely on the assurance that the “fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens shall not, at any time, be compromised or violated.”

But problems of illegal recruitment, human trafficking, and irregular migration have worsened over the years. Even if a downtrend of undocumented or irregular OFWs has been recorded since 2001, there are still over 900,000 of them in the world, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).

Listed below are some of the countries with undocumented Filipino workers.

(as of 2007)
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia

Source: Commission on Filipinos Overseas

In Jordan, for example, about 80 percent of Filipino workers are undocumented.

Kanlungan Center Foundation officer-in-charge Nena Fernandez added that in the said country, an average of three Filipino workers escape from their employers each day due to maltreatment.

In addition to OFWs receiving lower than in-contract or delayed salaries or not getting paid at all, they have also been exposed to unfavorable working and living conditions, sexual harassment, and other discriminatory practices.

Fr. Edwin Corros, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines‘ Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerants (CBCP-ECMI), explained that the real and main cause why many OFWs have become victims is not out of the desperation to get a job.

“Some are aware of the realities, but they take the risk,” he said.

CMA’s Sana added the lack of an effective reintegration policy — “not having enough decent work back home” — has led to cyclical migration, with 60 percent of OFWs being rehired.

‘Feminization’ of labor

Moreover, a growing “feminization” in labor migration has also occurred with women now comprising about 60 percent of Filipinos working abroad. And most of them are employed as domestic workers, cleaners, and manufacturing laborers.

Source: Commission on Filipinos Overseas

Female OFWs are also relatively younger than their male counterparts. From 1998 to 2002, women migrant workers are mostly between the ages of 25 and 29, but in 2005, many of them are aged 15 to 24.

With the continued increase of migrating women, Kanlungan’s Fernandez said that a gender-responsive program must be initiated “with genuine concern for women.”

The importance of gender analysis in labor migration cannot be overemphasized, according to CMA, noting that majority of women OFWs, notwithstanding their educational qualification and training, are concentrated in domestic and entertainment work abroad.

CMA also pointed out that the rate of women working abroad even reached 72 percent in 2003, but it has declined in 2006 due to Japan’s strict immigration policy, which slashed the deployment of newly-hired performing artists by 88 percent from a high of about 70,000 in 2002 to about 8,000 in 2007.

Also, due to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration‘s (POEA) household service workers policy reform in 2006, deployment of newly-hired women domestic workers decreased by 56 percent from 2006 to 2007.

The major concerns, said CMA, are the employment of the displaced women and the monitoring of POEA’s policy reform.

Fernandez added that except for Section 19, RA 8042 lacks the gender dimension of migration, pointing out that the law was hastily crafted to appease the growing social unrest due to the death of Flor Contemplacion back in 1995.

Its effectiveness, relevance and responsiveness is put to test and questioned in light of the numerous cases of distressed migrants and overseas Filipinos.

“Our question has always been how the government valuates diplomacy versus the welfare of its citizens,” Fernandez lamented. “Must we be always subservient in terms of foreign relations because beggars cannot be choosers?”

Fr. Corros also noted that the sheer number of victims is a problem in itself. He also said that due to lack of trust in government, many OFWs would rather go to nongovernmental organizations or the media for help.

Limited resources

Speaking at the same forum, Atty. Felicitas Bay of the Department of Labor and Employment‘s International Labor Affairs Service (DOLE-ILAS) admitted that the government does have its limitations.

“Our resources are very limited, so we welcome all the help we can get,” she said, noting that DOLE is allocated only P6.5 billion in the proposed 2009 budget.

The lawyer encouraged the migrant community to make it a point to report cases of abuses to the labor department. “Bring it to our attention so we can act appropriately.”

Meanwhile, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Director Albert Valenciano said that Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, had already proposed amendments to Senate Bill 154, an act amending RA 8042. Public hearings on the bill are ongoing, he said.

The AJG Advocacy Forum Series is also held in lieu of the second Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) to be held in Manila this October. The Philippines is the first primary labor-exporting country to host the GFMD.

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October 16th, 2008 at 1:00 am

[…] In addition to OFWs receiving lower than in-contract or delayed salaries or not getting paid at all, they have also been exposed to unfavorable working and living conditions, sexual harassment, and other discriminatory practices. Source: The Daily PCIJ […]

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