Apart from adding to the burden of those who seek job abroad, the Labor Export Policy bill now pending in Congress could mean that the government will no longer generate local jobs because it would be easier to deploy them to foreign countries.
By JUAN ANGELO A. HONGO and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The Philippines is one of the biggest sources of migrant labor, with about 10 percent of its population spread in countries around the world. Their billions and billions of dollars in remittances every year have helped prop up the economy and serve as a lifeline to their families back home.
These workers have become so profitable and indispensable for the government that now, a new Labor Export Policy pending in the House of Representative promises to squeeze more out of them. Under House Bill 287, migrant workers are now close to being a commodity, like those native delicacies that the country exports.
Critics of the bill say that apart from adding to the burden of those who seek job abroad, the Labor Export Policy could mean that the government will no longer generate local jobs because it would be easier to deploy them to foreign countries.
The labor-export policy in the Philippines started during the administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos to cope with the financial crisis. The lack of local job opportunities prompted the Philippine government then to supply the increasing demand for male engineers and skilled workers in the Middle East.
“The government said at the time that it would only be a temporary arrangement,” said Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan in an interview with Bulatlat.
Three decades since the Marcos regime, labor export is still the number one factor that props up the Philippine economy through the remittances that overseas Filipino workers send to their families. Ilagan said that aside from the remittances, the government also earns from the payments for the necessary documents that OFWs should secure, like passport and clearances.
The UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Families (UN MWC) has cited the Philippines as one of the biggest sources of migrant workers in the world.
Last week, the House Committee on Overseas Filipino Worker Affairs approved HB 387 that aims to liberalize and accelerate the processing of the papers and deployment of OFWs.
One of the provisions of HB 387 stipulates that the fees charged on OFWs would be reduced by 50 percent. But Ilagan, the only member of the committee who did not sign the bill, said the reduction “can be misleading.”
Ilagan believes that recruitment agencies are one of the most lucrative businesses in the Philippines and that it would be impossible for the government to regulate the payments that they would charge on OFWs.
“If they will liberalize and hasten the process, there is a possibility that they will charge more,” Ilagan said. She added that recruitment agencies would only implement this on official fees charged to OFWs.
“Lowering the fees? That is absurd,” said Garry Martinez, chairman of the migrant-aid group Migrante International. “They said the POEA does not charge a placement fee but look at how much an outgoing OFW pays,” he told Bulatlat, referring to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
While the last paragraph of HB 387 guarantees that the government will increase the number of local medical clinics accredited by the receiving foreign employers for the OFWs’ health clearances, Ilagan said it is easier said than done.
“Large medical clinics have become so powerful that they are able to establish working relations with receiving countries so that they would be the only ones accredited,” Ilagan added.