By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A proposed legislation to make overseas Filipino workers (OFW) pay a repatriation fee before being deployed does not sit well with OFWs. For an OFW who’s shelling out at least P20,000 ($465) for securing the requirements to be able to work abroad, having to pay another fee is not welcome. Migrante International, the global alliance of overseas Filipinos and their families strongly opposed House Bill 6195 seeking to double OFWs’ mandatory contributions to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
The social networking site Facebook was besieged with posts calling on people not to support or vote for “rotten politicians” in the 2013 election.
Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan-David of the fourth district of Manila authored the said bill that requires OFWs to double their OWWA contributions from $25 to $50. Bonoan-David said, the increase in contribution will “help” sustain an Emergency Repatriation Fund for distressed OFWs.
According to Bonoan-David, the bill, which seeks to amend Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, provides that for every worker recruited or deployed overseas, the recruitment agency or the employer, in addition to the obligation to repatriate its workers shall contribute $50 to OWWA’s Emergency Repatriation Fund.
“The bill intends to provide the necessary measures for the government to carry out its responsibilities to assist distressed OFWs in cases of war, epidemic, disaster or calamities, natural or man-made, and other similar events, and promote their general welfare,” Bonoan-David said.
She said Republic Act 8042 did not enable the government to efficiently help distressed OFWs due to financial constraints. The RA 8042 established an Emergency Repatriation Fund under the administration, control and supervision of OWWA with an initial funding of P1 million ($23 thousand).
Migrante on the other hand, invited Bonoan-David to a “sit-down talk” concerning the lady solon’s filing of HB 6195.
“We do not know who Rep. Bonoan-David has been consulting but while her intentions may be noble, the bill is definitely unwelcome to OFWs. While there is indeed a need to increase funds for repatriation of OFWs in distress, it should not be passed on to OFWs,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairman.
Martinez said that since the effectivity of OWWA Resolution No. 038 or the OWWA Omnibus Policies in 2003, which made OWWA contributions mandatory, OFWs have been obligated to pay the $25 membership due per contract.
“She may have been misinformed. We strongly propose that she re-think the bill after conducting consultations with OFWs and other stakeholders. We will be more than willing to sit down with her and explain to her the basis for our strong opposition to the bill,” Martinez said.
John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante—Middle East also said, “Rep. Bonoan-David’s proposal is ill-advised. She may be misinformed because the issue is not about lack of funds. The OFWs’ funds held in trust by the OWWA is now about P13 billion ($302 million) and is still earning, and yet the OWWA does not have enough programs and welfare services to OFWs and their dependents, including the proper use of its Emergency Repatriation fund.” He also added that the OWWA has not been transparent on the real status of the OFWs’ trust fund and where it is being spent.”
“Where does the money go?”
Martinez said their group seeks to enlighten Bonoan-David on why they have long been calling for a “full audit” and “immediate and independent investigation” of OWWA funds in lthe ight of many unresolved issues of abuse, misuse and corruption.
“Last year, a report by the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that OWWA’s overseas officers failed to remit more than P21 million ($488 thousand) in collections to OWWA’s Land Bank-Manila dollar account during the last ten years.”
According to Migrante, in 2006, then Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Roy Cimatu botched a rescue mission funded by OWWA during the Lebanon crisis. The OWWA released P150 million ($3.4 million) for the repatriation of OFWs but out of the 6,000 OFWs there, only 1,000 were repatriated by Cimatu.
The incident prompted several Senate hearings and it was then discovered that P6.8 billion ($158 million) of OWWA funds were transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank of the Philippines (P3.4 billion or $79 million each) without any consultation with the OFW sector.
Former solicitor general Frank Chavez also filed a case at the Department of Justice against former president Gloria Arroyo for alleged misuse and re-channeling of OWWA funds to various projects that had nothing to do with OFWs, among them the supposed evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq, Kuwait and Afganistan in 2003. “(Since) no actual evacuation of Filipino took place, (but) where did the money go?”
“These cases remain unresolved and unless a full audit takes place OFWs have reason to believe that OWWA funds are not trickling down to much-needed services to OFWs,” Martinez said.
Meanwhile, an OFW working in Saudi Arabia for eight years expressed rage over Bonoan-David’s legislation in his blog. He questioned Bonoan-David if the legislator even consulted with OFW groups and other non-government organizations. He also said that under RA 10022 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, it is prohibited to increase the payments and burdens of OFWs and their families. He also asked, who will benefit from the increase?
“Assuming there are 4,000 OFWs leaving the country every day, multiply that by $25, which we are paying as required, 4,000 x $25 (P43) x 30 days x 12 months = P15,48,000,000 ($36 million) every year. Do we know where the OWWA uses this money? Explain to us first where you use these funds because first and foremost we own that money. There is still P551 million ($12.8 million) missing from the previous administration.”
The migrant group said the legislation is anti-OFW. “We advise Rep. Bonoan-David to drop her anti-OFW proposal of imposing $50 to every OFW. We are not milking cows. We will campaign against her anti-OFW bill,” Monterona said.
He it is just an added burden to already overburdened OFWs. The proposal is also against the mandate of the Migrant Workers Act of 2010 or RA10022.
Martinez said to increase the repatriation funds, the government should increase its allocation for this in the national budget and not to add to the burden of OFWs. He said this should be one item that should be of utmost priority in the proposed 2013 national budget.
Monterona challenged Bonoan-David to “Instead of imposing additional fees or charges upon our heavy shoulders, considering the huge contribution of OFWs in terms of yearly remittances posting to $1.7-B in April, three to four percentage points higher than the same month of last year, Bonoan-David must give up and volunteer to channel her millions of pork barrel allocation to OWWA’s emergency repatriation fund.”
In a statement of Migrante—Middle East said that on June 21, they received word from Bonoan-David’s staff that she is withdrawing the bill.