All past administrations systematized and facilitated the export of labor.
By IAN IRVING BAZARTE
MANILA – End labor exportation and implement sweeping reforms to reduce the need for OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) to leave.
This was what OFW group Migrante International urged the government in a forum on Wednesday, June 7, entitled “SUMA 2017: The State of Migrants and their Families during the Duterte Administration.”
Arman Hernando, spokesperson for Migrante International, said President Rodrigo Duterte has not fully implemented his promises of “change” for OFWs, and called for the swift implementation of reforms.
Labor exportation under past administrations
Hernando called for an end to the government’s “labor exportation policy,” which, he said, is an unofficial government policy that encourages active labor migration as a mechanism for economic growth.
“In each of the past regimes, they developed and systematized this,” he said in Filipino.
In 1974, then-Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 442 or the 1974 Labor Code. The Labor Code put into practice a program “to promote the overseas employment of Filipino workers through a comprehensive market promotion and development program.”
Marcos also signed Executive Order No. 797 in 1982, creating the Welfare Fund for Overseas Workers, later renamed the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) by President Corazon Aquino’s Executive Order No, 126.
In 1995, the administration of Fidel Ramos passed Republic Act 8042, also known as the Migrant Workers Act, after the controversial murder trial and execution of domestic helper Flor Contemplacion in Singapore, which put into the spotlight the need for protection of migrants’ rights. It states that while the state does not promote overseas employment, it must guarantee protection for its overseas workers.
Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reveal that there are around 2.2 million OFWs working in various countries abroad. OFW remittances for 2016 alone account for around $27 billion, or around 10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Lack of government assistance
Hernando said one of the factors for Filipinos leaving to work abroad is the continued labor contractualization.
Duterte promised an end to hiring workers on a contractual basis during the 2016 campaign. So far, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) claims that it has regularized around 36,000 employees, which represents a mere 1 percent of contractual workers, as DOLE figures show.
Hernando also said Migrante International gave President Duterte a list of much-needed agenda to push forward, such as an end to contractualization, the removal of Overseas Employment Certificates (OEC), the removal of officials caught in the “tanim-bala” extortion scheme which plagued the last years of the previous administration, and the extension of passport validity.
The Duterte administration’s response, however, has been more or less, in Hernando’s words, “laban o bawi.”
Hernando said while the government does not require new hires to get OECs, it is still required of OFWs looking for new jobs abroad. He also said the “tanim-bala” scheme is less prevalent these days, but no official implicated in the said scheme were removed from office or ever held accountable.
While Migrante applauds Duterte’s initiative in pushing forward for the extension of passport validity from five to 10 years, the bill is still stuck in the legislative branch, and the passport issuance fee may be doubled as well, Hernando said.
He decried that government has not acted on the call to increase national minimum wage to P750 ($15), which he said will help convince workers to stay in the country.
The Philippines has no national minimum wage, as wage rates vary by region.
“Nagkukulang pa yung kasalukuyang administrasyon sa usapin ng pagsalo dito sa mga kababayan nating kakauwi lang, at mabigyan sila ng programang reintegrasyon para ma-kumbinsi sila na hindi na mangibang-bayan o huwag nang bumalik sa bayan kung saan sila umalis (The current administration lacks programs for our returning compatriots that would help them reintegrate and convince them to stay here and not to return to the country they worked in),” he said.
Rev. Marie Sol Villalon, coordinator of the United Methodist Church’s Board of Women’s Work and Society, echoed Hernando’s statements, saying that the government’s efforts in resolving the root causes of the OFW phenomenon is lackluster at best.
“Nothing has changed in spite of the laws,” she said in Filipino.
“Ang ating panawagan, i-scrap ang Migrant Act of 1995. At kung meron pa ring aalis naman, kailangang ma-ensure ang karapatan nila bilang migrante. Singilin natin ang gobyerno dahil sa kanyang pakinabang sa mga migrante na ito (Our call is to scrap the Migrant Act of 1995. And if anybody is going to work abroad, their rights as migrants should be ensured. We have to demand these from government especially since they have been benefitting from our OFWs),” she added.
Edwin dela Cruz, lawyer and president of the International Seafarers’ Action Center, highlighted seamen’s problems, saying that they are also victims of the government’s stance on labor exportation. He called for the establishment of seamen as regular workers.