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How would you protect overseas Filipino workers? Presidential aspirants give ideas

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — In the second round of the debates organized by the Commission on Elections, presidential candidates were asked about their plans to ensure the safety of migrant workers in the Southeast Asian nations.

This weekend’s Comelec presidential debates followed a new format, where candidates were grouped into three to answer and discuss one question per group. Presidential candidates Sen. Manny Pacquiao, Jose Montemayor Jr., and Vice President Leni Robredo formed the group to answer the question on migrant workers.

Pacquiao said the country’s “foreign policy is the extension of [its] domestic policy,” elaborating that his three-part plan, which first includes focusing on OFW welfare. He said their welfare can be protected through the Department of Migrant Workers and the OFW Handbook or the Republic Act 11227, which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019. 

The creation of the handbook aimed to be a resource for OFWs on their rights and responsibilities, among others. 

Pacquiao also said that the country will have an “independent foreign policy,” but then says “we will be a friend to all nations and America’s best friend.”

“We will not allow ourselves to be bullied by other [countries],” the boxer turned senator said.

Meanwhile, Jose Montemayor Jr. emphasized the labor and civil rights problems that undocumented OFWs may encounter. He said their whereabouts should be known to ensure that even during disasters, crises, and abuse, they may report to the country’s embassies abroad.

“They are prone to abuse by their employers and also by the companies of whom they work,” Montemayor said. Concerns regarding labor would be handled by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the country’s Department of Labor.

Montemayor said that the Department of Foreign Affairs should focus on the “criminal aspects” of OFW issues.

Vice President Leni Robredo echoed Montemayor, saying that despite the Philippines being a signatory to treaties protecting OFWs—there are still a lot of undocumented OFWs that do not receive the same protection given to those that are documented.

“Kailangan talaga na meron tayong masusing programa para ma-incentivize yung mga undocumented na mag-appear sa ating mga embassies at sa mga ating mga consulates na ipaalam na nandun sila para kung magkaroon sila ng problema ay natutulungan natin sila,” Robredo said.

(We really need to have a thorough program to incentivize the undocumented to appear at our embassies and our consulates to let them know that they are there so that if they have a problem, we can help them.)

Robredo recognized that even though there are existing treaties, OFWs who wish to go home and retire in the Philippines cannot do so because they will lose their benefits, such as those in social welfare and health programs, because of the lack of a “portability agreement.” She said governments need to sit down and consider that plan.

The vice president also wants to make Philippine embassies and consulates abroad to be more established and capable of responding to the programs of migrant workers. She also said she wants to have a migrant workers office in every province to also look after the concerns of the family members left behind by OFWs.

“Pero sa mas long-run, ang pinaka target talaga natin dapat na yung mga kababayan natin, lumalabas nalang ng bansa para magtrabaho by choice and not out of necessity,” Robredo said.

“Magagawa natin yun pag inayos naitn yung ekonomiya para meron silang trabaho dito na magbibigay sa kanila ng buhay na may dignidad na yung kanilang healthcare ay magiging maayos para hindi na sila ma-entice lumabas,” she added.

(In the long run, we should aim that our countrymen would only go out of the country for work by choice and not out of necessity.)

Filipinos often go overseas in search of greener pastures or higher paying jobs to support their families. According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, the number of registered OFWs from April to September 2020 was estimated at 1.77 million, lower than pre-pandemic when there were 2.11 million OFWs. They sent home a total of P134.77 billion in cash in 2020. 

Instead of fielding rebuttals, presidential candidates Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno and Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson laid out their respective plans for OFWs.

Moreno wants to “enter into a bilateral labor agreement to protect “documented and undocumented OFW or Filipinos abroad.” He also wants to hire “good” Philippine Overseas Labor Office officers or Labor officers in Philippine embassies. 

Moreno also wants to put forward “OFW integration in the country” through giving them opportunities to start businesses. 

Meanwhile, Lacson wants to fast track the transition to the Department of Migrant Workers, which was enacted by Duterte in December last year. The department’s transition period is expected to last until 2023.

“Ma-suggest ko lang po na dapat i-accelerate nalang natin yung transition at maging proactive yung mga POLO na magiging Migrant Workers Office, sila yung mag co-compose nun,” Lacson said. 

 (I’d like to suggest that we accelerate the transition and those in POLO who would form part of the Migrant Workers Office should be proactive.)

2022 ELECTIONS

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OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS

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