overseas Filipinos

PH deploying workers faster than it can protect them – OFW rights group

Michelle Abad

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PH deploying workers faster than it can protect them – OFW rights group

'JUSTICE.' Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) rights group Migrante, together with two ex-OFWs from the Middle East, call for justice for slain OFW Jullebee Ranara in a media forum held in Quezon City on February 10, 2023.

Michelle Abad/Rappler

Migrante Philippines chairperson Arman Hernando says the Philippine government must put more resources into monitoring and protecting OFWs, given how much it wants to export workers

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is deploying more workers without enough ready resources to protect them all should they run into welfare cases, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) rights group said in a media forum on Friday, February 10.

In a forum tackling the plight of OFWs in the Middle East, Migrante Philippines chairperson Arman Hernando said that lapses in monitoring OFWs in distress are tied to what he believed was too much deployment, and not enough resources to monitor and protect them.

Mabilis ang deployment. Ang bilis ng paniningil. Pero once na sila ay nandoon, ano naman ang nilatag ng gobyerno natin para protektahan sila? Nandoon ‘yung disbalanse eh. At hindi handa at wala sa framework ng gobyerno kung paano ito concretely ipapatupad,” said Hernando.

Sa monitoring, diyan dapat papasok ‘yung budget – panlalaan ng resources at personnel ng mga facilities. At sa mahabang panahon, ‘yun nga ‘yung problema. Sa latag ng mga Pilipino sa ibayong dagat, gaano din ba pinaglaanan ng budget at resources ng gobyerno natin ‘yung ating OFWs?” he added.

(Deployment is fast. Asking for payments is fast. But once the OFWs are there, what are the government’s protective mechanisms for them? There is an imbalance. Our government is not ready and having a concrete implementation plan is not within its framework…. Budget should come into play in monitoring – in placing resources and personnel in facilities. And the problem shows in the long run. With so many overseas Filipinos, how much budget and resources has the government given our OFWs?)

The issue of monitoring caused a heated discussion in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, February 8, when senators Joel Villanueva and Raffy Tulfo grilled a representative of the recruitment agency of slain OFW Jullebee Ranara. They slammed the agency’s “ineffective” monitoring before Ranara was allegedly killed by the son of her employer in Kuwait.

PH deploying workers faster than it can protect them – OFW rights group

Recruitment agencies are obligated to regularly monitor the situation of their deployed OFWs. Migrant Workers Undersecretary Bernard Olalia earlier said that Ranara’s recruitment agencies, Catalist International Manpower Services Company, and its Kuwait-based counterpart, Platinum International Office for Recruitment of Domestic Manpower, faced recruitment violation cases following her death.

But while recruitment agencies are meant to watch over their OFWs, Hernando said that it does not mean that the government’s hands are clean of responsibility when something goes wrong.

“In the first place, who approved of that recruitment agency? Who certified that that agency had the capacity to fulfill its obligations? It is the government. And when things go wrong, we must not only point fingers at the recruitment agency, but we must ask ourselves, what safety nets do we have in place in the event that the recruitment agencies are negligent?” Hernando said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Ang kailangan, regardless kung ano ang obligasyon ng recruitment agency, may askyon [na] ginagawa ng gobyerno,” he added. (Regardless of what the recruitment agency’s obligations are, the government must take action.)

The new Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) was given its very first budget for 2023 amounting to P15.8 billion. In comparison, OFW remittances reached a record-breaking $31.4 billion (P1.59 trillion) in 2021, and accounted for 9.3% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product.

DMW chief Susan “Toots” Ople said in a January Malacañang briefing that the department hoped to deploy more workers in its first fully operational year, noting that the Philippines fielded 486,673 OFWs from July to November 2022. 

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There are at least 1.83 million OFWs worldwide, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

OFWs’ plight in the Middle East

In the Friday media forum, Migrante presented several Filipinos who described their experiences working in the Middle East, particularly in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. A distressed OFW’s daughter spoke as well.

Ester, a Kuwait-based domestic worker whose surname Rappler decided to withhold, said in a recorded video shown in the forum that she has not had a day off since she started work 10 months ago. She claimed her employers had taken her passport and her Kuwait civil ID.

Confiscation of passports is among the prohibited acts under the memorandum of agreement forged by the Philippines and Kuwait following the murder of domestic worker Joanna Demafelis in 2018.

Nakararanas din po ako ng pinaglulupitan ng amo kong babae dahil lang daw sa hindi malinis ang pagtrabaho ko. At ang masakit pa doon, nagsabi pa siya sa akin na ako daw [ay] walang utak. Sinabihan pa niya ako na bawat tingin niya, kung hindi maganda sa paningin niya, ikakaltas sa sahod ko,” said Ester.

(I have experienced cruelty from my female employer just because she said I didn’t do my work well. What hurts more is that she told me I’m stupid. She also told me that she will deduct from my salary every time she saw something she wasn’t satisfied with.)

Meanwhile, Jasmine Ramos, the daughter of an OFW detained in the United Arab Emirates, appealed for help in getting legal assistance for her mother. Jasmine said her mother was caught with an expired visa and drugs she believes were planted. (READ: DFA admits low acquittal rate for Filipinos facing cases abroad)

Alam po naming hindi ‘yun magagawa ng mama ko dahil mabuti po siyang ina, at nagtatrabaho po siya nang maayos, kaya imposibleng magawa niya ‘yon. Kaya humihingi po kami ng tulong na sana po ay maidepensa na ang kanyang kaso, nang sa ganoon po ay makauwi at makasama na namin po siya, dahil labis po ‘yung pag-aalala namin kung maayos po ba ‘yung kalagayan niya,” said Jasmine.

(We know that my mother would never do such a thing because she is a good mother, and she works well, so it is impossible for her to do that. That’s why we are asking for help so that her case can be defended, so that she can come home and be with us, because we are so worried about her well-being.)

On Wednesday, the Philippines halted the processing of applications of first-time Filipino domestic workers bound for Kuwait. It is tantamount to a targeted deployment ban.

Senate Majority Leader Villanueva earlier questioned how effective deployment bans are in protecting OFWs, particularly those headed to Kuwait, as thousands of welfare cases continue to sprout in the Gulf state despite the Philippine government’s imposition of such bans in the past. – Rappler.com

$1 = P50.77 as of December 31, 2021

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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.