Dialogue urged over labor migration row
MANILA, Philippines – Instead of engaging in a bitter public word war which invites unnecessary media attention, protesting recruitment agencies that deploy Filipino workers to foreign countries should instead engage in constructive dialogue with government.
This is according to supporters of now-embattled Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac, who was accused of abuse of power by a number of recruitment agencies facing pending administrative cases before the POEA.
The newly-formed Now or Never Movement (NNM) alleged that Cacdac's "hasty" cancellation and suspension of recruitment agencies' licenses over their deficiencies were hurting the economy, the workers employed by these businesses, as well as other would-be overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose applications had nothing to do with the OFW cases involved in the agencies' alleged violations.
They called for Cacdac's and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz's resignation.
On the other hand, the more established pro-Cacdac faction regarded NNM as a group of disgruntled agencies hurt by reforms within POEA and unable to comply with POEA standards. The licensing system inevitably hurts businesses not able to comply with the requirements to maintain the license.
What is needed is "dialogue and a stakeholder-wide (tripartite) workshop on ethical recruitment," said ethical recruitment advocate Loreto "Lito" Soriano on Wednesday, July 16. Soriano is himself an agency owner and president emeritus of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc (PASEI).
But NNM legal counsel Steven Yanson in a Wednesday briefing said the group is not willing to sit down with Cacdac and Baldoz to talk about their grievances, urging others to join them in a nationwide protest on July 20.
On social media, Johh Bertiz, head of the Philippine Recruitment Agencies Accredited to Saudi Arabia (PRASAA), said: "As one of the association leaders of the private recruitment industry, I believe that rallies or bringing the conflict to the street is not a solution to the industry problem."
Saying dialogues have failed them in the past, Yanson said the group would be willing to talk to any government official in positions higher than Baldoz.
Following NNM's Wednesday press conference, Rappler learned that a dialogue between government and local recruiters was initiated by Labor Secretary Baldoz.
Workers' groups, pro-OFW civil society organizations, and recruiters' organizations have expressed support of Cacdac amidst what advocate Susan Ople regarded as NNM's "disinformation" and "propaganda."
"No less than the lives of our OFWs are at stake in this effort to discipline erring agencies,” said Congressman Roy Señeres of the OFW Family Partylist. "In due time, those calling for the ouster of Administrator Cacdac will have to explain to the public their own spotty performance in protecting the workers they have deployed overseas."
In his Facebook account, Former Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said: "Illegal recruiters are trying to oust POEA Administrator Hans Cacdac, who's been trying to put them out of business... They must not be allowed to have the head of a good, honest civil servant."
"When I headed the House's Committee on Overseas Affairs, I had the opportunity to stand in support of Hans' efforts to clean up a corruption-filled agency infiltrated by syndicates making money by trafficking our hapless OFWs," Bello added.
PASEI, PRASAA and OFW Family Partylist are all part of a "united front" backing Cacdac-led POEA reforms.
Other groups with them include: Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, Pinoy Expat Bloggers Awards, Patnubay-Riyadh, Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group, and Blas F. Ople Policy Center.
NNM's Yanson claimed that the multiple reversals by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) of POEA decisions on cases of allegedly errant recruitment agencies prove the lack of due process within the POEA.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Cacdac challenged Yanson's assertion and said data would show otherwise.
Citing POEA data, Cacdac said only 7 of 231 POEA findings were overturned in a span of 4 years. These reversals were not necessarily tied to procedural faults but on the actual merits of the cases.
From 2012 to 2015, 119 of 231 POEA decisions – or 17 times more than the number of reversals – attained finality for either not being elevated before the DOLE or having been affirmed by the department.
During the same period, 40 POEA cases were settled at the DOLE level and another 65 are still pending before DOLE.
NNM's claim that Cacdac was "putting the interest of the government at stake by making unnecessary appeals to the appellate Court" was also not backed by numbers.
Cacdac said he only ever petitions before the Court of Appeals (CA) when a local court temporarily halts a POEA-ordered preventive suspension of an errant recruitment agency under probe.
Labor agencies such as the POEA have primary jurisdiction to hear these cases, he said, making the regional court's intervention appealable before the CA.
Even then, he said these appeals are "few and far between."
In response to NNM's allegations of "hasty" and "disastrous" cancellations of agencies' licenses, Cacdac said the POEA is "trying to hold them to a higher standard."
Cacdac has in the past constantly challenged recruiters to "step up to the plate," with ongoing talks within government to increase the capitalization requirement of recruitment agencies. (LISTEN: PODCAST: Ethical recruitment of OFWs)
Unfortunately, Cacdac said "some recruitment agencies are not mindful of infusing capital or re-infusing capital into their endeavors." (READ: POEA to recruiters: Use 'electronic systems' in hiring OFWs)
Philippine government representatives have also met with their counterparts in certain destination countries to come up with joint initiatives to streamline the legal processes for applicant-OFWs.
"We are constantly trying our best to speed it up. Mainly, our main mode is electronic processing," he said. (READ: Illegal recruiters are fast 'for all the wrong reasons' – POEA)
An electronic system or e-system could potentially prevent falsification of documents or getting defrauded by the recruiter. Crucial information in a workers' employment contract – such as his or her employer, salary, and job description – could also be accessed almost in real-time.
Cacdac has repeatedly warned against illegal recruitment, stressing the links of the underground industry to drug syndicates. – Rappler.com