By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For migrants rights group Migrante International, the recent pronouncements of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that it is banning the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to 41 countries that have not been complying to the requisites provided under Republic Act 10022 or the law amending The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, is a positive development as the government is seemingly taking the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino workers seriously. However, Migrante International wants to know if the Philippine government is ready for the repercussions.
“How does the government plan to absorb the inevitable increase in unemployment that the ban will cause? We must keep in mind that our OFWs are forced to work abroad because there are no decent wages and jobs here,” Migrante International chair Garry Martinez said.
Martinez said if the government is serious in implementing the ban, the present administration should also implement measures to generate jobs and increase wages. Otherwise, he said, “this recent move will just be mere lip service.”
Last week the POEA, in its POEA Governing Board Resolutions No.7, listed 41 countries as non-compliant to the requirements set by RA 10022, which stipulates that the host country must have adequate laws to protect migrant workers, such as an existing labor and social laws that protect the rights of workers, including the migrant workers, is a signatory to multilateral conventions, declarations or resolutions related to the protection of migrant workers and has a bilateral agreement or arrangement with the Philippines for the protection of the rights of OFWs.
“As an important pillar of the Philippine economy, part of our commitment to migrant workers includes expanding economic opportunities while ensuring their safety wherever they may be in the world,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a report.
The 41 countries included in the deployment ban are Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Chad, Croatia, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominica, East Timor, Eritrea, Haiti, India, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, Palestine, Serbia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Tonga, Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, US Virgin Islands, Vanuatu, and Zimbabwe.
In a report, Labor secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the Philippine government, however, is not closing its doors to the 41 host countries certified by the DFA as non-compliant.
“It really all depends on the country whether it feels that it would need bilateral negotiations with us,” Baldoz said, adding that the host countries may inform the Philippine government that it is willing to pass laws and implement concrete measures to protect Filipino migrant workers.
Valte, on the other hand, said in a report that the ban on the 41 countries is very minimal, saying that it would not, in fact, affect the amount of OFW remittances sent to the Philippines. She said in a report that total OFW deployment to these countries reached only 229 and 179 in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and constitutes about a tenth of the remittances from more than eight million Filipinos abroad.
Violations could still happen
However, even Baldoz herself recognized the fact that banning the 41 countries would not necessarily translate to “total absence of disputes and violations.”
“There could still be violations. What is important is that mechanisms are in place to enforce the rights arising from the employer-employee relationship of our workers with the foreign employers in those countries,” Baldoz said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who also heads the presidential task force against illegal recruitment and presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ concerns, has already appealed to the public to heed the deployment ban, saying that it is not worth going to those countries.
Martinez, for his part, said Filipinos would be all the more vulnerable to human trafficking and illegal recruitment as “they would find alternative, illegal or ‘backdoor,’ means to go abroad out of desperation”.
“We have handled numerous cases of human trafficking in host countries where deployment bans are in place, namely, Jordan and Iraq, and more recently, Syria and Bahrain. In some of the cases, officials in government posts abroad are involved in the trafficking of our kababayans.”
Forced migration will persist
In a statement, Migrante Middle East said that with or without the deployment ban, rights violations, illegal recruitment and forced migration will continue. The group’s regional director John Leonard Monterona said in countries certified “safe” by the POEA as OFW destinations, cases of “rampant rights violations ranging from various forms of abuses to labor rights and even mysterious deaths occur.”
“These imply that OFW protection could not be guaranteed,” Monterona said, adding that Migrante and its member organizations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Jordan are receiving requests for assistance from OFWs in distress.
Monterona said the problem of forced migration is the “grinding poverty and joblessness” in the country.
“Pro-labor policies and economic thrusts toward national industrialization and implementation of genuine agrarian reform program would provide life to the Philippine economy,” Monterona said, “as it will provide impetus to generating local jobs with decent pay and benefits to Filipino workers – this is what we need.”