PH gov't urged to probe 'multi-million-peso scam' targeting OFWs
MANILA, Philippines – A non-governmental organization specializing in labor migration urged the Philippine government to investigate an apparent "scam" targeting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, urged the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health to look into "a dubious scheme...which imposes a $10-fee online registration fee for every Middle East-bound OFW applicant."
“We are counting on the government to put a stop to all these nefarious online registration schemes aimed at earning money from our OFWs. It violates our laws and also creates grave security problems considering the data being harvested and the huge amounts of money being collected,” Ople said in a statement.
She also warned medical clinics and recruitment agencies catering to OFWs about the scheme, which is estimated to earn at least P222 million every year.
The online registration fee was supposedly initiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Ministry of Health.
“This online registration scheme appears to be a multi-million-peso scam targeting our OFWs. No one in the Philippines was consulted and we also don’t know who will benefit from these new fees being collected and arbitrarily imposed on our OFWs,” she said.
“This online registration scheme has all the makings of a scam and is being perpetrated by foreigners allegedly representing Gulf countries. We urge the DFA and DOLE to investigate this scam and for the DOH to stand pat on its position to prohibit clinics from participating in this highly suspicious online registration system,” Ople added.
No DOH approval
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center said that OFW applicants bound for the Middle East are being required to pay an additional $10 registration fee online for the provision of Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME). The Philippines deployed 333,671 newly-hired workers to GCC member-countries in 2015 alone, based on Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) data.
The requirement is supposed to be the initiative of the GCC Ministry of Health, with the approval of the Philippines' Department of Health (DOH).
The DOH, however, denied this in a Department Circular No. 0371 issued on December 22, 2017.
“Since the said online registration system charges additional fee to the OFW applicants and can be restrictive to few selected DOH-accredited OFW clinics, it may be construed as another form of decking and monopoly of health examination services for Filipino migrant workers. Thus, DOH prohibits the Medical Facilities for Overseas Workers and Seafarers (MFOWS) from participating or using the said online scheme,” the DOH said in its department circular.
The memorandum circular signed by Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo also advised the public and DOH-accredited clinics for OFWs to report to the department any activities related to the online registration system.
Ople said that the POEA is yet to pass a resolution recognizing the scheme and urged the DFA to check if Gulf countries receiving OFWs have authorized the GCC Ministry of Health to collect money on their behalf.
'Affront to national sovereignty'
ACTS OFW Representative Aniceto Bertiz III has filed a House resolution seeking an investigation into the online registration scheme, which he described as an "affront to national sovereignty and imbued with national security risks."
He recalled that a simialr scheme was put up by Kuwait-owned company Winston Q8 with an office located at Bonifacio Global City.
"It collected millions of dollars from Kuwait-bound OFWs by forcing them to register online for an additional fee of more than P5,000 per applicant. It turned out that Winston Q8 had links with ISIS and one of its managers was wanted around the world for acts of terrorism. This is why it is important to investigate this latest scheme because it could be another Winston Q8,” Bertiz said.
“This is a money-making venture because all it does is to collect $10 from each OFW bound for the Middle East and control which clinics these OFWs should patronize,” he added.
Bertiz pointed out that there are sufficient DOH safeguards to ensure that all accredited clinics abide by the government’s regulations and standards. – Rappler.com