overseas Filipinos

‘Malapit na’? Saudi OFWs receiving claims this year ‘not realistic’ – DFA

Michelle Abad

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

‘Malapit na’? Saudi OFWs receiving claims this year ‘not realistic’ – DFA

SAUDI OFWs. The Philippine government repatriates hundreds of distressed overseas Filipinos from Saudi Arabia on June 25, 2021.


The Department of Foreign Affairs gives a reality check following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s pronouncement in his second SONA that Saudi Arabia would 'now' pay labor claims, around seven years since the OFWs lost their jobs

The wait continues for the thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were displaced almost a decade ago for their unpaid labor claims from Saudi Arabia.

Contrary to pronouncements from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) – and even President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – that Saudi Arabia’s payment of two billion Riyals (over P30.2 billion) for the workers would come soon, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told it like it is: It’s “not realistic” for such payment to come in 2023.

In a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Migrant Workers on Thursday, August 17, Senator Raffy Tulfo asked the DMW for a definite answer on when the payouts would start.

Malapit na po silang mabayaran, Mr. Senator… Ang kausap po namin doon, ‘yun pong kanilang ministro mismo,” said DMW officer-in-charge Undersecretary Bernard Olalia. (They are close to being paid, Mr. Senator… We are speaking directly to their ministry.)

Olalia said a Saudi minister in a “very high position” would be visiting the country this year to meet with the President, and is expected to bear “good news.”

Unsatisfied, Tulfo pressed the department for a time frame. “That’s what we’ve been asking them for a long time,” Olalia said in Filipino.

A few exchanges later, DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eduardo de Vega cut to the chase: “We don’t want to appear that we’re contradicting the word of our fellow agency. But the DFA will be frank, we’ll be honest sa ating mga kababayan. Early this year, our embassy reported that it is not realistic to expect the payment to come this year.”

Now? Soon?

For more than seven years, around 10,000 OFWs who were displaced by their construction companies’ folding in Saudi Arabia have waited for their billions worth of unpaid salaries and end-of-service benefits.

Two presidents have gone by with none of the OFWs being paid back. Then-Philippine labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said in October 2021 that Saudi would pay by the end of the year. In November 2022, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople was thrilled to announce the “gift” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised to Marcos – that they would finally pay the Filipinos.

This was also one of the matters relating to OFWs that Marcos boasted of in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24:

“The Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia himself personally committed to me that the unpaid claims of Filipino workers would now be paid,” he said in the SONA.

The operative word is “now.” Ople also said that in a June 30 statement that the DMW was hopeful the matter would be resolved “soon.”

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De Vega said that the report from the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia came in April, before the DMW held bilateral talks with the kingdom in May, and that perhaps the DMW had updates since then. But the DMW in the Thursday hearing did not dispute the possibility of no payouts this year.

Tulfo said that Ople should not have announced the Crown Prince’s promise if they weren’t sure about when that promise would be fulfilled.

“She should not have done that, because when she did that, so many people had their hopes up. Don’t give our countrymen false hope…. You should have announced when you were sure,” Tulfo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

It also appears that Saudi Arabia’s “gift” is not a gift from the government at all. The DFA understood that the Saudi government was helping with the process of getting the claims from the companies.

“Our understanding is that what Saudi is promising is that they will hasten the process, and the company will still pay through the legal process, the bankruptcy proceedings. That’s our understanding – that it’s not Saudi government money which will pay for the nonpayment,” said De Vega.

If the money wouldn’t come from the government, why did Saudi Arabia promise to pay? De Vega said it could have been “lost in translation.”

Siguro pinangakuan lang si Secretary Toots out of parang PR lang. Pampabango lang ng gobyerno ng Saudi na, ‘Kami ay friendly sa inyo, o magbabayad kami,’ etcetera, na hindi dapat sinabi,” said Tulfo. (Perhaps Secretary Toots was only promised for public relations purposes. Something to make the Saudi government look good by saying, ‘We are friendly to you, we will pay,’ etcetera, which they should not have said.)

Tulfo worried that the President would take the hit because of the information on the labor claims Tulfo believed the DMW fed to him for announcement during the SONA.

“Do not give information to the President if you’re not sure. Do not give information to him for him to announce to the public because once he [announces] it to the public then people will expect it… Whatever the President says, it becomes a policy,” said Tulfo.

Huwag nating gibain ‘yun by us giving information – wrong information, misleading information – to him, na ikakasira niya sa taumbayan,” he added. (Let us not compromise [his policy pronouncements] by giving information – wrong information, misleading information – to him, which will lead to the public’s disapproval of him.)

Marcos had several claims in his second SONA which lacked context, such as on gross domestic product growth, and accomplishments for several government programs. – Rappler.com

*1 SAR = P15.1353

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.