In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received flak from several overseas workers’ groups for the transfer of the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Medicare Fund from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). It turns out now that this was not the only disbursement of OWWA funds that the Arroyo administration made.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO and AUBREY SC MAKILAN
The overseas workers’ alliance Migrante International has uncovered new evidence proving, the group says, that the Arroyo administration made more “illegal” disbursements of funds from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) than the transfer of the agency’s Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Medicare Fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). OWWA funds are composed of contributions from OFWs.
This developed as OFWs in Hong Kong joined Migrante Sectoral Party (MSP) in calling for the scrapping of the contract authentication fee and other “illegal collections” by Filipino labor and airport authorities.
In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received flak from several overseas workers’ groups for transferring OWWA funds to PhilHealth, apparently as response to a Nov. 22, 2002 memorandum from then PhilHealth president Francisco Duque III (now health secretary) suggesting the transfer of the said funds. The fund transfer, Duque said in the memorandum, “will have a significant bearing on (the) 2004 elections.”
President Arroyo directed the fund transfer under Executive Order No. 182 (signed Feb. 14, 2003). On Feb. 2, 2004, OWWA passed Resolution No. 005, series of 2004, authorizing the transfer of P530,382,446 from the Medicare Fund to PhilHealth. EO 392, dated Dec. 28, 2004, amended EO 182, showing that a portion of the OWWA Health Insurance Fund is to be transferred to PhilHealth.
Latest reports show however that this was not the only disbursement of OWWA funds under the Arroyo administration.
In a news conference in Quezon City Aug. 8, Connie Bragas-Regalado, chair of Migrante, told reporters that aside from the P530.382 million transferred to PhilHealth, the Arroyo administration had also disbursed P23.587 million (then $87,757) in OWWA funds to the International Labor Affairs Service of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE-ILAS) on Oct. 1, 2003.
Bragas-Regalado showed a copy of an Oct. 30, 2003 memorandum of then acting Labor Secretary Manuel Imson to OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo regarding the implementation of OWWA Board Resolution No. 040, series of 2003. The memo instructed Angelo to “effect the immediate transfer of the funds from OWWA to DOLE.” The amount, the memorandum also stated, was for the “overseas allowances” of medical doctors and social workers.
An April 2, 2004 memorandum by Imson to Angelo also requests the latter to “effect the immediate transfer” of P23.587 million from the OWWA to the DoLE. The amount was to be used for support to seven medical officers and eight social workers.
“The said amounts were to fund the Overseas Comprehensive Social Service Package (OCSSP) of the government,” said Bragas-Regalado. “This is not a program of the OWWA. Therefore sourcing of this funding should not be from OFW trust funds at the OWWA.”
“It is also an absurdity (to deploy) seven doctors and eight social workers and (pay) them allowances drawn from OFW money,” Bragas-Regalado added.
The Migrante chair said that out of the 15, two doctors and two social workers were sent to Saudi Arabia; one doctor and one social worker to Hong Kong; one doctor and two social workers to Kuwait; one doctor and two social workers to the United Arab Emirates; one doctor each to Bahrain and South Korea; and one social worker to Taiwan.
She named the medical officers as: Bernadette Seludo (Hong Kong), Emma Lou Maturan (South Korea), Angelita Go (Bahrain), Grace Melchor (Kuwait), Jocelyn Pagaran (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), Federico Alfonso Puente (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and Froilan Jacinto Obillo (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). The social workers are Delilah Fuentes (Hong Kong), Carmen Miñano (Taiwan), Bailano Salik (Riyadh), Perlita Macapil (Jeddah), Portia Roldan (Abu Dhabi), Fatima Caminan (Dubai, UAE), Pilar Francisco (Kuwait) and Marilyn Fabian (Kuwait). They are listed in Imson’s April 2, 2004 memorandum to Angelo.
GMA poll campaign
Bragas-Regalado said the doctors and social workers were used for Arroyo’s electoral campaign. “These doctors and social workers were seen distributing tablets of paracetamol to OFWs at the start of the campaign period in February 2004,” she said. “Thus, the illegal disbursements mentioned aided Gloria’s campaign visibility but did not extend much-needed services to the owners of the funds: the OFWs and their dependents.”
Migrante International is calling for a congressional investigation of the matter and appropriate punishments for all involved, said the Migrante leader.
Meanwhile, the MSP chapter in Hong Kong last week denounced the Arroyo administration for using OFWs as “milking cows.”
Vicky Casia-Cabantac, MSP-HK chair, said the HK$212 contract authentication fee charged to Filipino workers in Hong Kong is illegal and is only another income-generating scheme of the government.
The authentication fee was scrapped in October 2002 only to be restored by the DoLE in early 2004. OFWs have been calling for the removal of the fee since Arroyo became President, Casia-Cabantac said.
Casia-Cabantac challenged that “if they (DoLE) are really sincere in protecting the interest of overseas workers, they shall scrap it immediately notwithstanding their squabble with the DFA.”
Bragas-Regalado also scored the Meet and Assist Service (MAS) of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). MIAA’s move to charge fees for “special passenger assistance requests” was allegedly meant to provide passenger service and generate revenues, and curb the rampant illegal escort service practiced at the NAIA.
But Bragas-Regalado said that this “service” is no different from the illegal escort services that the MIAA uses “as a feeble ‘side-reason’ to justify the premium or fee.”
“If the airport administration really intends to serve the plane-riding public, it must extend all types of assistance without charge,” she said.
Also recently, the MIAA board of directors moved to double the P100 airport fee charged domestic passengers starting Sept. 1.
MIAA statistics showed that domestic passenger traffic from January to December 2004 reached 6.74 million. Of these, 3.59 million queued at the NAIA Terminal 2, while 3.15 million passed through the Manila Domestic Airport. From these, the MIAA collected P320.62 million in terminal fees.
From January to June this year, MIAA posted domestic passenger traffic of 3.67 million with P174.35 million in terminal fees.
MSP said the “dubious and burdensome fees” are part of the “crimes” that the Macapagal-Arroyo has committed against Filipino migrant workers. (Bulatlat.com)