It was one of the scariest experiences ever. Imagine being squeezed into a lift, and when you got to your desired floor, you realized that every square inch of the space you were supposed to step out on was crammed with people.
That was exactly what happened when a number of us braved the queues that snaked around United Centre’s ground floor lift lobby on March 15 to make it in time for our appointment at the Consulate on the 14th floor. (READ: OFWs want Overseas Employment Certificate scrapped)
At 8:15 am, the tail-end of the queue could no longer be seen from the lift doors. But we thanked our lucky stars when we were allowed to get to the front of the line so we could be in time for our meeting.
Being squeezed tight in an elevator was nothing compared to the more horrifying experience of seeing, as the lift doors opened, that a wall of people was blocking your way.
“Get back in !” some of the people shouted, but the ones behind you would not be denied the right to finally take their place in that sea of humanity, and so pushed you forward while the ones in front tried to move you all back into the lift.
Not even when we were walking among the throngs of people at the height of the Occupy protest did we feel such a sense of panic. In a flash, one realized that all it took was for someone to shout a wrong word, or collapse from exhaustion or sheer panic like ours, and a stampede could ensue.
Luckily, the worst-case scenario did not happen. But one shudders to think how close we all were to being hurt, or even crushed to death at that time.
But the ones in the queue were the real unlucky ones. Tired and hungry, they had no choice but to stay put even during their only rest day in the week just so they could get the piece of paper that would ensure their hassle-free return to Hong Kong.
Many went without lunch, but with the fortitude that often comes with taking on backbreaking work, hardly anyone complained.
All this for what? So our workers could secure a $20-document that our government has been insisting they must have so they could return to their work abroad unimpeded.
It boggles the mind why an OEC (overseas employment certificate) is needed when the worker already has her employment visa stamped on her passport, and could also produce a work contract and a HKID should they be deemed necessary.
What special qualification do the harried staff at the consulate possess that airport personnel do not have, in determining whether an OFW is entitled to the all-important certificate?
It could only be the money. With tens of thousands of OFWs returning home each day, the OEC, even at a mere $20 or around P950 each, is making oodles of money for the government.
To add insult to injury, we now see the source of this gold mine – the OFW – being made to go through a wringer just to get this superfluous piece of paper.
As we Filipinos would say, “Pinagkakakitaan na nga, pinapahirapan pa (They make money out of them, but they still make them suffer).”
For this, we partly blame newbie labor officials at the consulate who, in a fit of recklessness, moved the Sunday processing of the OEC from the relatively pleasant surroundings of the Bayanihan Centre in Kennedy Town to the suffocating confines of United Centre.
We also blame our labor officials in Manila for failing to make a promised OEC online application system work so our OFWs could have been spared the indignity and agony of standing in line for hours just so they could be squeezed for more money.
But mostly, we blame our government for not giving our OFWs the importance that they deserve.
It is because of our workers’ suffering that many children are better fed and kept in school where they get a crack at having a better life. It is mainly through our OFWs’ sacrifices that our economy has remained afloat. They should be taken care of, not squeezed dry.
So, enough, we say. Scrap the OEC now. – Rappler.com
Daisy Mandap is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.
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