22 July 2010
“In time for PNoy’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), presidents and heads of different OFWs groups in Hong Kong will meet and lay down the OFWs’ immediate concerns that we want PNoy to categorically declare how he will resolve.”
This was declared by Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of the OFW umbrella group United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK), as they prepare for the first “All Presidents’ Meeting (APM)” this coming Sunday, the eve of President Noynoy Aquino’s first SONA.
“Around 120 associations, federations and unions of OFWs have already confirmed their participation. This will be one of the biggest gatherings of the OFW community leaders and the aim is to list down our demands and submit it to PNoy in a form of a joint letter,” Balladares-Pelaez said.
UNIFIL-MIGRANTE said presidents and chairpersons of organizations of OFWs from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be represented in the meeting as well as church-based groups, welfare associations, regional and municipal based groupings and self-help and political formations.
“We shall take advantage of PNoy’s first SONA to make sure that OFWs’ concern will be included in his priorities. His predecessor has neglected us for so long and we hope that in PNoy’s SONA, it will be different”, Balladares-Pelaez added.
The migrant leader expressed that many of the issues that the OFWs are facing including the overpricing of e-passport overseas and doing away of the mandatory OWWA membership to get overseas employment certificate or OEC for vacationing OFWs, can be immediately resolved by PNoy through executive decrees that do not need to pass through bureaucratic layers.
“Passport fee overseas is within the purview of the President. He has the power to set the fee similar to its cost in the Philippines. A stroke of his pen will already lessen the financial burden of our OFWs”, said Balladares-Pelaez.
Balladares-Pelaez reported that e-passport costs as much as three times more than in the Philippines. She relayed that the price set in HK (HK$510) is even six US dollars more than the set price of US$60 after conversion.
As to the mandatory membership to OWWA as a prerequisite for obtaining OEC, Balladares-Pelaez said that such rule is not even a law. “It is just one of those misguided policies of the POEA to extract more money from our OFWs. All that PNoy needs to do is to direct Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to issue a memorandum to do away with this”, she said.
The group expects a long list of demands from the participants of the meeting representing Hong Kong’s more than 120,000-strong OFW community. The list, Balladares-Pelaez said will be listed down according to importance and impact to the broader Filipino migrants’ community.
“If we are truly his “boss”, then we are expecting him to heed our demands”, Balladares-Pelaez stated referring to PNoy’s inaugural message where he said “kayo ang boss ko, kaya’t hindi maaring hindi ako makinig sa mga utos ninyo” (you are my boss, I cannot refuse your orders).
“We want to hear him say he will reduce the passport fee overseas similar to its cost in the Philippines. We want to hear him declare that he will do away with the many government fees that the consulates and embassies are collecting from our OFWs. It is up to him if this SONA will be a sweet or bitter first to remember,” she concluded.
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, Chairperson, UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK