Voters reminded to keep in mind interests, welfare of OFWs as election day nears

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Voters reminded to keep in mind interests, welfare of OFWs as election day nears
This April 2, 2020 photo shows overseas Filipino workers who returned to the country and are set to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — As election day nears, Filipinos are reminded to vote for those who can help ensure the safety and welfare of overseas Filipino workers and vote for a leadership that would enable the creation of more jobs back home.  

“It is important to choose leaders who have platforms to uplift the lives of our OFWs, decrease unemployment so that workers need not seek jobs overseas, and in so doing provide jobs to our educated and highly skilled workers,” Koalisyon Kontra Daya (KKD) Canada spokesperson Marissa Corpus said in an online message to Philstar.com.

More than 65.7 registered Filipino voters will cast their ballots on Monday next week for the country’s national and local elections. 

Meanwhile, the over 1.697 million Filipino voters abroad have less than a week to vote. 

Overseas voting

While overseas voting kicked off weeks ago, there are still some overseas Filipino voters in countries or areas that are conducting the postal voting system report that they have yet to receive their election packets. 

Philippine embassies and consulates, meanwhile, have called on Filipinos to check lists of returned mail in case their election packets were sent back to their respective foreign service post due to issues involving their address.

“It is unconscionable that due to inefficiencies, a lack of conscientious planning and information dissemination, a seemingly cavalier attitude surrounding the entire process of OAV (overseas absentee voting) that is becoming obvious as election day approaches, too many OFWs are being potentially disenfranchised,” Malaya Canada’s Camacho told Philstar.com.

Representatives from Migrante International and 1Sambayan earlier raised that foreign service posts were allegedly unprepared for the May polls for not being able to properly disseminate information ahead of the elections, among others. 

But on Monday this week, just days before the voting deadline, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Affairs Brigido “Dodo” Dulay said registered Filipino voters in places with the postal voting system may cast their votes personally at foreign service posts if their election packets have not yet arrived by mail. 

What are overseas Filipinos voting for?

Migrante International, a global network of over 200 organizations of OFWs and their families based across 24 countries, last year released its 10-point electoral agenda for the 2022 national elections. 

The agenda was backed by other organizations such as the Alliance of Filipino Migrants Associations and Communities in Korea and the Samahan ng mga Domestic Helper sa Gitnang Silangan.

The coalition is asking candidates to help assist stranded OFWs abroad who were displaced because of the pandemic, called for an increase in budget for the aid and welfare assistance for migrant workers, job security and protection for seafarers, and legal protection for OFWs who are in jail or on death row.

“Kailangang i-evaluate ng ating gobyerno ang lahat ng mga kaso ng ating kababayan na nasa kulungan dahil marami sa kanila ay sa totoo lang ay biktima ng mga pang-aabuso’t pagsasamantala at kinakailangan nila ng legal protection,” Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion told Philstar.com.

(Our government needs to re-evaluate all the cases of those in jail because many of them are in fact victims of abuses and exploitation, they need legal protection.)

READ: Mary Jane Veloso’s mother seeks Robredo help on OFW's 12th year in jail

Meanwhile, Social Justice for Migrant Workers Founder Marites Palma is asking that OFWs with health concerns be given priority when it comes to being repatriated home. 

“Bigyang importansya ang mga [distressed] workers sa pamamagitan ng mabilis na action tuwing may nanghihingi ng tulong, hindi yung patay na ang kabayo saka bigyan ng damo,” Palma said in an online message.

(Give importance to distressed workers by taking swift action whenever someone would ask for help, and not just looking their way when they have already passed.)

Representation concerns

Malaya Movement Canada’s Camacho wants the establishment of a sincere party-list that actually supports and backs OFWs and Filipino residents holding dual citizenship.

“I think it's time to seriously consider representation by region, for OAVs to include OFWs, dual citizens, in Canada, the USA, Europe, the Middle East, and other regions, in the Philippine Congress,” Camacho said.

When it comes to representation in their host countries, Migrante Canada’s Stef Martin, on the other hand, said there should be more consulates and embassies open in areas “with large concentrations of Filipinos.” Some OFWs have to travel far to reach foreign service posts within their area, proving to be costly to migrant workers and their families.

“This is why we demand that all consular and welfare services must be opened  for services to Filipino migrants even during the stated weekends in the host country,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, Kabayan for Leni-Kiko’s Earl Dacera said there should be a database of deployed OFWs and their employers, detailing their whereabouts, contact details, among others.

“Note that some OFWs are being traded to other employers without the Philippine consulate’s knowledge or the deploying agency,” he said.

Most representatives of migrant workers are calling on to better regulate recruitment agencies to put a stop to cases of human trafficking, abuses under the hands of employers, and illegal recruitment activities.

Meanwhile, they are also rallying to stop red-tagging and the alleged state surveillance of Filipino organizations and representatives abroad. Migrante Canada’s Martin said "addressing the actual socio-economic conditions in the Philippines and recognizing the roots of armed conflict is to address the root causes of forced migration of our kababayans.”

How else can we support them? 

The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) was recently signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte, which aimed to make government services more accessible to OFWs and their families.

“The DMW is a Duterte promise but its establishment and the chaos and turfing issues it generated tells me that its creation has not been studied well and consultations among key agencies may not have been sufficient,” Jean Encinas-Franco, an Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science said in an online message.

There have been issues with the department’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) after two documents were released—one by DMW Chief Abdullah Derupong Mama-o and another by the transition team, which was the one that was approved.

READ: IRR approval firms up functions, structure of Department of Migrant Workers

The Philippine Statistics Authority estimated that OFWs totaled 1.77 million within the April to September period of 2020, dropping 18.6% from the pre-pandemic total of 2.18 million. PSA said Region 4A or CALABARZON was home to the majority of OFWs recorded during the period.

Total remittances of OFWs in 2020 reached P134.77 billion. In 2021, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said cash remittances sent through banks totaled $31.418 billion.

“Historically, remittance inflows comprises 10-12% of [the gross domestic product]. It is actually at par with tourism and greater than ODA (Official Development Assistance),” Asian Institute of Management economist John Paolo R. Rivera told Philstar.com in a Viber message.

“This has actually cushioned the economy from financial shocks and boosted domestic consumption of remittance-dependent households.”

PSA’s 2018 National Migration Survey showed that at least 12% of Filipino households have a member of the family working abroad. But this was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of November last year, the Department of Labor and Employment reported that over 800,000 OFWs have been sent home by their employers because of the pandemic.

Encinas-Franco said the families of OFWs can support their migrant worker-relatives by not being “too dependent on remittances.” She said this is so that OFWs can have savings stashed and return home whenever they want.

“I think the best way to support OFWs is also for their families to always think that their remittances are hard-earned money. They must find ways on how to put it to good use,” Encinas -Franco said.

Meanwhile, Rivera said the country should “continue good economic relations and partnership with host economies for OFWs.” Some presidential bets have suggested that the Philippines enter into more bilateral labor agreements to protect OFWs.

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

“Continuous training should also be provided so that our workers remain competitive and comparable with other workers from other source markets for temporary labor migrants,” Rivera said.

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