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MANILA, Philippines – In light of continued reports of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) having a difficult time adjusting to life upon returning home from work abroad, OFW Representative Marissa Magsino called for the “leveling up” of the country’s reintegration program for OFWs.
“Ang ating reintegration program [ay] kailangan i-level up. Napakarami pong problema, napakaraming proseso, mahirap po mag-apply. Kaya nga sabi ko kailangan i-streamline ang mga requirement and to make sure na mabigyan po ang ating mga OFWs,” said Magsino on Wednesday, September 20.
(We need to level up our reintegration program. There are so many problems, so many processes, and it’s so difficult to apply. So I told [the Department of Migrant Workers] that we need to streamline the requirements and to make sure that our OFWs will be assisted.)
Magsino gave the remark on the sidelines of a public forum on the rights and reintegration of women migrant workers in Pasig City on Wednesday. In the forum, several returned OFWs spoke about how difficult it was to get government assistance upon their return to the Philippines.
Offers vs realities
Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Assistant Secretary Francis Ron de Guzman explained that the government has several reintegration programs in place, such as the Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Pag-unlad ng Samahang OFWs (Tulong-PUSO) program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), which gives a one-time financial grant to OFW groups with start-up businesses.
De Guzman also mentioned the Sa Pinas, Ikaw ang Ma’am at Sir program, which facilitates the taking of the teachers’ licensure exam for OFWs who wish to return home to work as teachers.
But even with the existence of such programs, some cases on the ground have shown that availing assistance is not easy. Angelita Gamboa, a former domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, told the story of how difficult it was to escape her situation and settle down in the Philippines.
For more than five years, Gamboa endured 21-hour work days, and her salary was not given to her, only sent straight to her family in the Philippines. She complained to her recruitment agency, which reportedly told her, “Nagpunta ka sa Riyadh para magtrabaho, hindi para magpasarap (You went to Riyadh to work, not to relax).”
It was only upon reaching out to OFW rights group Calatagan OFW Federation, which then contacted non-government organization Blas F. Ople Center, when Gamboa began to see a way out. It was the late migrant workers secretary Susan “Toots” Ople, who was with the Ople Center at the time, who brought the concern to the Philippine labor office in Riyadh to process her repatriation.
Upon returning home, Gamboa said she did not receive any additional assistance from the government.
“Wala po akong natanggap na kahit na anong tulong mula sa gobyerno, kahit sa kabila po ng pagpa-file ko ng kahit na anong livelihood assistance, wala pong nagbigay sa ‘kin. Ang tangi pong nagbigay sa akin ng tulong ay ang Ople Policy Center po ng livelihood [assistance] worth P10,000,” said Gamboa.
(I did not receive any assistance from the government, even if I filed for livelihood assistance. The only entity that gave me assistance was the Ople Policy Center, which was livelihood assistance worth P10,000.)
Challenges in staying home
Zooming out from her own situation, 48-year-old Gamboa, who now also works with the Ople Center, said that the government should make it easier for returning Filipino migrants to avail of assistance, such as by lessening requirements.
Returning migrants also face discrimination in age and educational attainment when they try to apply for work in the Philippines, she said.
“Kami pong mga returnee ng OFW walang makuhang stable job dito sa Pilipinas. So, ano nangyayari po? … Napipiilitan po kami bumalik at bakit pagsapalaran ulit. Kaya po hindi maiwasan yung ulit-ulit na nagiging biktima kami ng pang-aabuso,” said Gamboa.
(Many of us OFW returnees cannot get stable jobs here in the Philippines. So what happens? … We are forced to go back abroad and take risks again. That’s why we cannot avoid repeatedly falling victim to abuse.)
Similar concerns were raised to the International Labor Organization during Director-General Gilbert Houngbo’s visit to the Philippines in June.
Gamboa added a call for better insurance programs for returning OFWs, and the need for more sustainable opportunities. – Rappler.com