But Villar said that this year, total payout in insurance benefits reached only P163 million ($4,014,778), an amount dwarfed by OWWA’s payroll and operating expenses. The argument for stricter “executive and legislative oversight” of OWWA, he said, was put forward after audit observations made by the Commission on Audit for fiscal year 2006.
Balladares noted that only $2 from every $25 that migrant workers pay is allocated to direct services to OFWs, while the big chunk of the money goes to operational expenses, controversial investments and unaudited appropriations, citing the Smokey Mountain Rehabilitation Project and the Middle East Preparedness Team funds for the evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq that allegedly never happened.
Balladares also said that the transfer of the OWWA Medicare Fund to PhilHealth was also anomalous. In February 2003, she said, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 182 ordering the transfer following a letter by then PhilHealth president Francisco Duque allegedly saying that the transfer will have a significant bearing on the 2004 elections.
“The government’s handling of the OWWA fund stinks to high heavens and must be addressed as soon as possible,” she said.
In the proposed congressional review of the OFW money, Unifil-HK encouraged the Congress to involve OFW groups in uncovering the alleged “mismanagement and misappropriation of the OWWA Fund and eventually, in instituting reforms in the OWWA that can genuinely benefit OFWs,” such as a system of check and balance in the management of the OWWA fund and placing more OFW representatives recommended by OFW organizations to the OWWA board of trustees.
Aside from the possible misappropriations, Villar said, uncaring foreign post personnel also aggravate the plight of distressed OFWs.
Villar called for the identification and punishment of embassy and consular officials and personnel who refuse assistance or display incompetence in extending help to Filipinos, which further aggravates the condition of distressed OFWs around the world.
The Senate President received a letter from the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) accusing some members of the diplomatic corps of bad attitude, negligence and incompetence in attending to the cases of Filipino migrant workers in distress.
CMA cited the case of Teresita Santos, a sewer who was gang raped in August 2005 by five Saudi nationals. The perpetrators were found guilty and were sentenced to four years of imprisonment and 500 lashes each. But Santos accused Philippine consulate personnel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia of depriving her of proper legal advice that allegedly almost caused her to lose her case.
In a letter-complaint submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Santos said it was only through the help of fellow OFWs that she was able to file a case against her perpetrators. Moreover, she accused Assistance to Nationals personnel of blocking the hearings.
Villar also cited the case of Julian Camat, Hermilo Ramos and Napoleon Fabregas, who worked for a cargo handling company in Jeddah. They were sentenced by a Saudi court to one and a half years of imprisonment for stealing computers in January, 2003. But, Villar said, the three actually served four years and four months in detention because of the alleged negligence of the Consulate General in Jeddah.
“The seeming insensitiveness and indifference of a number of our diplomatic and consular officials and personnel have been reported and they are destroying the image and dignity of a larger, more committed, devoted and excellent public servants in foreign service,” Villar said.
CMA also presented the case of Esnaira Angin, a Muslim woman from Maguindanao, who was one of the four OFWs in Dubai whose house was broken into by three Emirati and one Omani national in November, 2005. She was stabbed on her chest and back while trying to resist her attackers. Angin, an undocumented OFW, said she sought the help of the Assistant Labor Attache for her repatriation to the Philippines before the incident took place but was allegedly denied help and shelter at the labor office because she lacked money to pay the necessary fees.
“The mindset and thinking of our corps of foreign service must be changed to realize that their existence in countries where they are detailed and stationed is a gift to our citizens, particularly the OFWs. They must show compassion, which OFWs richly deserve,” Villar asserted.
With these reports, Villar filed Proposed Resolution No. 248, urging the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to conduct an inquiry on allegations of bad attitude, negligence and incompetence in handling cases of distressed OFWs by some Philippine embassy and consular personnel stationed in various countries.
He also filed Senate Bill 1879, which seeks to amend Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. SB 1879 seeks to impose penalties on Philippine consular officials and other government personnel who fail to act on complaints of, or to give assistance or render service to migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos in distress.
“Over a decade after its enactment, RA 8042 has not entirely lived up to its intended purpose,” said Villar, noting that Filipinos abroad continue to suffer under abusive employers, inhumane working conditions and various human rights violations.
Under SB 1879, officials and personnel who fail or refuse to render service and/or assistance will be punished with suspension from office of not less than 30 days to dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement and other benefits depending on the gravity of the offense, and shall be disqualified from holding any other government office in the future.
Villar has earlier filed Proposed Resolution No. 189 urging the Senate Committee on Labor and Employment and Foreign Relations to conduct an urgent omnibus inquiry on the plight of detained Filipino workers in various countries in order to formulate remedial measure and devise a package of assistance to protect OFWs.
“An assessment of the legal and social remedies being afforded by our embassies and consular offices to our kababayans (countrymen) detained abroad for various offenses is imperative to ascertain sufficiency of assistance for the protection of OFWs,” said the Senate President.(Bulatlat.com)