MANILA, Philippines – Rose Dacanay Policarpio, 26, has been detained in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for more than two years now for allegedly killing her Lebanese employer. She was just two weeks into her job as a domestic helper when she was sent to jail.
Her mother Editha, however, insisted that her daughter does not have the strength to kill, as she just stands at only 4 feet and 11 inches.
Policarpio is just among the more than 80 overseas Filipino workers who are on death row in other countries. These are people commonly referred to as the “modern-day heroes” of the country, who work thousands of miles away from home to provide for their family, and contribute to the Philippine economy.
Despite their huge contribution to the Philippine economy, Policarpio said the government hardly supports them. She claimed there was no legal support given to her.
“Lumapit po ako sa gobyerno natin. Lahat ng pangalan ng gobyerno napuntahan ko na ‘yun pero wala po silang naibigay na tulong sa akin. Tuwing follow up ko, laging ‘on process’ or ‘under investigation’ yun lang po ang sinasagot nila sa akin,” Policarpio said in a migrant workers’ forum organized by Migrante International on Friday, December 18.
(I asked help from the government. I went to all government agencies but they didn’t give me help. Each time I follow up on the case, they always tell me it’s still ‘on process’ or ‘under investigation.’)
Migrant workers are seekiing stronger protection through Philippine embassies and consulates. They accuse these offices of sometimes being the first to neglect them. They urged presidential candidates to sign bilateral agreements with the Middle East kingdom to further support OFWs.
“Mahirap mabigyan ng proteksyon ang mga OFWs kasi walang bilateral agreement. Walang kakayanan magprotekta kahit sa loob ng Philippine embassy mismo, yung Bahay Kalinga, lahat pwede i-raid ng gobyerno ng Saudi Arabia kahit nasa loob ng consulate at embassy,” said Marlon Gatdula, an OFW from Saudi Arabia.
(It’s hard to give protection to OFWs because there is no bilateral agreement. The government cannot give protection even inside the Philippine embassy….Bahay Kalinga, the government of Saudi Arabia can conduct a raid, even if it’s inside the consulate or embassy.)
Deaf and blind
Ria Valensario, who worked in Saudi Arabia, recounted how her employer would deprive her of food and sleep. Instead of helping her, her foreign and local recruitment agencies only dismissed her experience as homesickness.
“Humingi akong tulong sa agency, sabi lang nila nahohomesick lang ako
(I asked help from the agency, they said I’m only feeling homesick),”said an emotional Valensario.
“Humingi ako ng tulong sa Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Overseas Workes Welfare Administration (OWWA), wala namang nagawa. Masakit pa doon, nalaman ko na sinabi ng agency sa OWWA na ‘wag ibigay yung sahod ko ng 6 at kalahating buwan para manatili ako sa amo ko. Bumalik ako sa bahay pero di nagbago ang trato sa akin,” she added.
(I asked help from the POEA , POLO, OWWA, but they didn’t do anything. It’s more painful when I found out the agency told OWWA not to give my salary of 6 and a half months so I could stay with my employer. I went back to their house but they treated me the same way.)
She said that when she could not take it any longer, she decided to leave. Her employer threatened to have her arrested, but she snapped back that she would even prefer that to remaining in that household.
Valensario continued: “Pagdating ko sa consulate, sinabihan ako na papauwiin ako pero ‘wag na akong mag-file ng kaso. Ang masaklap pa, ‘pag hindi ko ginawa yun, di ko makukuha sahod at sagot ko pa ang ticket ko pabalik. Ang tanong ko lang po: Kung saka-sakali po na bigyan kayo ng pagkakataong umupo, paano kami na pinabayaan ng opisyal ng gobyerno na isinumpa na ipaglalaban ang karapatan naming mga OFW?”
(When I reached the consulate, they told me I can go home but they asked me not to file a case anymore. What’s worse is if I don’t do it, they said I won’t get my salary and I have to pay for my ticket back home. My only question is: If you are given the chance to win, how can you take care of us who were neglected by government officials who promised they would fight for the rights of OFWs?)
Less red tape
Another thing most OFWs want is to scrap the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), a requirement to ensure OFWs are properly documented.
The OEC, sometimes also called the “exit pass,” is required to be presented to international ports of exit in the Philippines as proof that the holder is a bona fide OFW. OEC holders are also exempted from paying travel tax and the airport terminal fee. Terminal fees, however, are already included in the airfare tickets, adding another step for OFWs who have to reimburse them.
They said passports, contracts, and identification cards in the host country should be enough proof and documentation. After all, their contract go through consulates and embassies.
In Hong Kong, MIgrante International said people had to line up for 7 hours during their days off to get OECs, in time for their flight back to the Philippines. This is an added burden, especially during peak seasons – Christmas and graduation – when many OFWs go home.
“Damang-dama and perwisyo sa pagpila sa konsulado o sa Philippine Overseas Labor Office. Nakatayo sa pila ang mga migrante nang humigit kumulang 7 oras sa araw ng kanilang dayoff. Hindi nakakakain, di nakakapagpahinga sa araw na para sa aming sarili. Di rin sagot ang online application dahil kung tutuusin di naman kailangan ang OEC para patunayan na kami ay OFW,” said Vicky Casia-Cabantac, head of Migrante Partylist in Hong Kong.
(We can really feel the inconvenience of falling in line for long hours at the consulate or the Philippine Overseas Labor Office. Migrant workers stand for 7 hours during their days off. They could not eat and rest during the days where they should. The online application is also not the solution because if you look at it, the OEC is not needed to prove we are OFWs.)
“Sa aming pananaw dapat maging tampok na usapin ngayong halalan ang sobra sobrang singilin na pinapataw ng gobyerno sa migranteng manggagawa, ang tinatawag na mga bagong bayani pero kinokotongan lamang. Bukod sa OEC, OWWA fee, POEA fee, Pag-ibig fund, Philhealth,authentication fee ng kontrata, meron pang verification fee, at passport fee na 3 ulit ang presyo kumpara sa Pilipinas,” she added.
(In our opinion, excessive fees imposed on OFWs or should be a key topic in this election. OFWs are called “modern-day heroes” but they are only exploited. Aside from OEC fees, there are OWWA fees, POEA fees, Pag-Ibig fund, Philhealth, authentication fee for the contract, verification fee, and passport fee which is thrice the price.)
OFWs are also calling for fair treatment in terms of balikbayan boxes, which are duty and tax-free boxes of personal effects or “pasalubong (souvenirs)” sent by OFWs or Filipinos living abroad.
The government drew flak over the issue, following the Bureau of Customs’ proposal to inspect each of the boxes. Amid a public outcry, President Benigno Aquino III stopped the “physical” check up of there boxes, which OFWs say are a symbol of their love and hard work for their families. (READ: OFWs: Hands off our balikbayan boxes!)
With all the abuses against them and the challenges of global violence and economic slowdown, many OFWs are repatriated to the country. The problem, however, does not end there. With the livelihood gone, how can they now support their families?
That’s why OFWs are calling for more financial support from the government. After all, they said, support from the POEA and OWWA is hardly enough for them.
“Milyon ang kinikita ng OWWA sa OFWs pero pag-uwi naming mga distressed OFWs wala man lang kaming matanggap na benepisyo mula sa OWWA, kagaya ko na hindi mapalad at inabuso ng amo,” migrant worker Marina Sarno said.
(OWWA earns millions from OFWs but when distressed OFWs come home, we do not get any benefit from them, like me who was not as lucky as the others because my employer abused me.)
Sarno said they want OWWA to give them more livelihood funds, disability funds, scholarship for their children, and repatriation cost refund.
They also hit the OWWA’s Omnibus Board Resolution No. 0383, or “The OWWA Omnibus Policies to provide guidelines on matters concerning OWWA membership and its coverage, collection of contributions, and availment of benefits.”
“Sa reintegration o balik-Pinas balik-pangkabuhayan, nagkakahalaga lamang na P10,000-starting kit ang ibibigay. Sa disability, di makukuha ‘pag kumpleto pa ang dalawang mata, dalawang kamay, at dalawang paa (For the reintegration, they only give us P10,000-starting kit. For the disability, we could not get it if our two eyes, two hands, and two feet are still complete),” Sarno said.
She said that the scholarship grant is not enough, and that the repatriation fund rests on the decision of the POEA and the National Labor Relations Commission on the cases filed.
“Paano kung hindi ito mapanalo? Kapag hindi nakafile, sa recruitment agency ipapakuha ang pera na dapat para sa OFW (What if the case doesn’t win? If you don’t file [a case], the recruitment agency gets the money meant for OFWs),” she said. – Rappler.com
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