Being part of the women’s group Gabriela for so many years, Maza said, she has witnessed many cases of exploitative conditions that OFWs have to endure. She mentioned the tragic case of Flor Contemplacion, the problems of mail-order brides, and human trafficking.
Maza said onerous exactions from OFWs should be rescinded. These exactions, Maza said, include the mandatory $25 OWWA fee and other fees that OFWs have to pay to the government before leaving to work abroad.
She added that there should be bilateral agreements between the Philippines and receiving countries, which would result in the enactment of policies and procedures that would ensure that the welfare of OFWs will be taken cared of.
Maza said the next set of government officials should also focus on issues such as genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization so that Filipinos would no longer need to work abroad to support their families. “It should also invite OFWs abroad to return home.”
Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Tito Sotto, and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial bet Apolinario Lozada proposed the abolition of the OWWA and the removal of the functions of the Department of Foreign Affairs that deal with the affairs of OFWs. In its stead, they proposed the creation of a sole government agency that will ensure the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of OFWs.
Lozada, former presidential adviser for foreign affairs under the Ramos adminstration, said that the OWWA does not even keep the public informed on where it spent the membership fees paid by OFWs since 1997.
“They are called modern day heroes,” Lozada said, “Yet they are not given enough support by the government.”
Representatives of Gilbert Remulla and Gwen Pimentel, both running under the NP, said their principals fully support the covenant. Rey Achacoso, Remulla’s representative, said the senatorial bet might be young but he has already witnessed a lot of injustices that is happening in the country today. “He would be pushing for an increase in jobs available locally,” Achacoso said.
Luigi Gana, husband of Pimentel, said his wife would give the Department of Foreign Affairs a failing grade for its inability to provide the assistance needed by OFWs. He said the issue of OFWs is close to Pimentel’s heart because she is an advocate of the welfare of families. “Many families have been torn apart because of the labor export policy,” he said, adding that children are the most vulnerable in family break-ups.
The covenant gives hope to OFWs and their families. Migrante, for its part, vows to continue working for the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of OFWs and more importantly, to work for a society where Filipinos would no longer have to work abroad to be able to support their families. (With reports from Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)