July 26, 2016
OFW advocate and former labor undersecretary Susan Ople sees the breaking of a new dawn in the relationship between government and millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) under the Duterte administration given the President’s directives in his first State of the Nation Address.
Ople heads a non-profit organization known as the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, which provides assistance to distressed overseas workers around the world.
“The response from our OFWs so far has been overwhelming. They refer to the president, as “Tatay Digong”. They see him as someone on their side, a leader that they can turn to especially in times of need,” the OFW advocate noted.
The daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople said that her NGO has been receiving queries from OFWs on when they can obtain passports with a ten-year validity.
When an OFW was told that a law had to be passed to amend the Passport Act of 1996, she sighed and said that she was set to renew her passport tomorrow.
Another OFW expressed hope that President Duterte would also look into the unlawful collection of airport terminal fees from migrant workers. Under the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, overseas workers are exempted from paying the travel tax and airport terminal fees. However, the Manila International Airport Authority junked this law when it started collecting terminal fees even from OFWs with a refund system that they have to line up for prior to departure.
Of special interest to OFWs is the promise of President Duterte to create a separate department to serve their needs. “Wala kaming sariling bahay sa gobyerno,” Ronald dela Cruz, an OFW from Najran, Saudi Arabia, said. He observed that OFWs like him have to go through several agencies to complete their requirements or obtain assistance.
For the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, the war against illegal recruitment and human trafficking needs to be fleshed out even more. “The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) is headed by the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Welfaree and Development. I hope that the new DoJ Secretary would conven the IACAT soon because we need to maintain our historic Tier 1 ranking under the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report.”
Meanwhile, Ople said the first real post-SONA test of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment under the Duterte Administration is now underway.
She said that thousands of stranded OFWs in the Middle East and their families throughout the country are awaiting the issuance of guidelines on the release of Php 26,000 in financial assistance from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and OWWA Director Connie Marquez made the announcement before distressed OFWs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last Friday. The Department of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, is expected to help in the repatriation and release of exit clearance as well as travel documents of the stranded OFWs who would like to come home to their families.
Over 11,000 OFWs in Saudi Arabia have been suffering from non-payment of salaries, lack of food and medicines, and expired residency permits that hinder mobility because their companies have been suffering tremendous financial losses. These companies include the biggest construction firms in Saudi Arabia such as the Saudi Bin Laden Group, Saudi Oger Ltd, and the Mohammad Al-Mojil or MMG group of companies.
“Expectations are high that these two departments will work closely with each other unlike in previous crisis situations convergence of efforts were not as visible on the ground,” Ople said.
President Duterte’s directives to DoLE and the DFA that no OFW should be made to line up under the sun or in the rain to avail of government services is still fresh on the minds of his overseas constituents.
“The ease in obtaining the Php26,000 humanitarian assistance per stranded worker needs to be balanced with existing government rules on transparency and accountability. This is a very difficult challenge because the stranded workers are gathered in different camps across the desert of Saudi Arabia, “ Ople said.
Ople expressed optimism that President Duterte would be able to deliver on his promises as stated in the SONA because he is known to be a man of his word.
“Of him, we have no doubt. The President’s heart is definitely in the right place,” Ople said.