Aside from these “legalized kotong (extortion)” as how Migrante puts it, there are also issues of corruption. For one, Aquino has not yet ordered an investigation into the controversial e-passport project of the DFA.
The new passports contain a chipset for added security, in compliance with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization. The e-passport costs P1,200 ($27) or P250 ($5.70) more for rush processing, which would take 10 working days, and P750 ( $17) or P200 ($4.56) more for regular processing, which takes 20 working days.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines discovered that the e-passport laminates procured from French company Hologram Industries were overpriced by P50 ($1.14) each. This amounts to an additional cost of P120 million ( $2.7 million) assuming that the DFA releases about three million passports annually.
Poor Services, Inept Government Officials
Despite such exorbitant fees, OFWs and their families receive very few, or none at all, services from the government. The case of Agnes Tenorio, a first-time domestic helper in Hongkong, is a perfect example.
Tenorio was illegally terminated by her employer barely two hours after she arrived in Hongkong. Her case was forwarded to Labor Attache Romulo Salud. During their first meeting, Tenorio, unaware of her rights and the possibility of filing a case against her employer, told Salud she wanted to go home. Salud made arrangements for her repatriation. However, Tenorio later learned from other OFWs and the Mission for Migrant Workers that under Hongkong laws, she has the right to claim her unpaid wages from her host country’s Labor Department. Tenorio went to see Salud to ask for assistance in filing a claim. Instead of helping her, Salud scolded and verbally abused Tenorio. An excerpt of their conversation is now posted at YouTube and has been circulating in social networking sites.
Meanwhile, OFWs had to live like ‘squatters’ outside the Philippine Consulate office in Saudi Arabia, after they were driven out of Khandera Bridge, where stranded and undocumented OFWs awaiting repatriation stay. The Migrante chapter in Saudi Arabia intervened in behalf of the said OFWs. Philippine consulate officials, however, told the OFWs that they could not be accommodated inside the consulate. They were later on moved to Hajj Terminal, where they stayed temporarily while waiting for their repatriation papers.
Worse, other OFWs such as the the two beauticians in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia were barred from staying in the Philippine shelter because they are undocumented workers.
Aquino’s early days as president were also marred by issues of human trafficking. Dreams of many Filipinos who took a chance in Macau were dashed, after entrusting their lives to a recruiter who, after getting their money, left them helpless in Macau. Human trafficking also occurs in banned countries.
In Jordan, runaway OFWs, mostly women, who approached Philippine embassy officials to ask for help were asked to pay $1,000 as deployment cost, The welfare officer at the Philippine embassy told them that the $1,200 fee being levied on them was already discounted. The deployment cost is based on the amount of money spent by employers to enable the OFW to reach Jordan. Embassy officials claimed that since the OFWs escaped from their employers and thus, were not able to finish their contract, they would have to pay for the deployment cost.
“This is unacceptable. Any victim of human trafficking should be repatriated immediately,” Martinez told Bulatlat.com, adding that the DFA has a repatriation fund for undocumented workers.
Families of OFWs who died abroad also had to go through the proverbial eye of a needle to have the remains of the dead OFW repatriated. Perlita Carmen, mother of OFW Mark who was killed in Kish Island, was told that she would have to pay around P500,000 ($11,400) for her son’s autopsy and the cost of repatriating the remains. When she asked for assistance from the DFA, an official named Ariel Gatchalian, even blamed his son, saying that this is what happens to Filipinos who insist on working abroad undocumented. Later on, though, the DFA agreed to shoulder the expenses.
Mary Grace Travilal, 42, worked in Cyprus as a domestic helper, and succumbed to thoracic aortic aneurism on September 30. Her long time partner Felix Catajay asked for the assistance of the OWWA for the repatriation of Travilal’s remains. But they were told that since Travilal was not able to pay her OWWA annual membership dues during her three-year stay in Cyprus, the family could not avail of her death and burial benefits amounting to P120,000 ($2,800).
Travilal’s insurance company agreed to pay for the cost of repatriating her remains to Manila. The airfare from Manila to Tacurong, however, would have to be shouldered by the family. Catajay could not afford the cost of bringing her remains back to Tacurong so he went to different government agencies to ask for assistance. After he made the rounds of government agencies, the OWWA agreed to pay for the local airfare.
“If OWWA continues to decide on requests for assistance on the basis of technicalities instead of looking into its merits, they are turning their backs on OFWs,” Martinez said.
The “most direct attack on OFWs,” Martinez said, was when Aquino reduced the legal assistance fund for OFWs, from P50 million ($1.14 million) to only P27 million ($616 thousand). Martinez said this is a gross violation of the Migrant Workers Act, which mandates that the DFA must allot at least P100 million ($2.28 million) for the repatriation, medical assistance and other welfare services for OFWs in distress. The Assistance to Nationals fund of DFA, on the other hand, has been reduced to P87 million ( $1.986 million) from P100 million ($2.28 million).
With over 108 OFWs in death row and in dire need of legal assistance, Martinez said, the budget cut was tantamount to allowing these OFWs to die. OFW Camille, not her real name, hopes that other Filipino migrant workers would not have to go through what she experienced. She was raped by a Bangladeshi co-worker in September 2009 and became pregnant as a result. Her employer did not believe her and sent her to jail instead.
She was sentenced to serve 11 months in jail and to receive 600 lashes. During her imprisonment, no embassy official visited her, even after she had a miscarriage due to the stressful conditions inside the jail. No lawyer also came to defend her during the hearings. She believes she lost her case because of this.
When she was finally able to return home last December 9, she was saddened by the fact that other OFWs might suffer the same fate because of the reduction in the budget for legal assistance.
“If Aquino would not change the government’s policies and way of dealing with OFWs, we see a bleak future in the next six years,” Martinez said, “The bright yellow ribbon that he used during the elections is starting to fade, and it would have more blood splattered on it because of the anti-migrant policies the Aquino government is pursuing.”