The Philippine economy will collapse without the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Remittances from the OFWs contributed significantly to the 7.3% growth in the economy in 2010. The spending fuelled by the billions of dollars they send back home is a factor that is likely helping the country avoid a Greece-like economic failure.
Even without drastic economic reforms, the Philippines managed to survive the global financial crisis in 2008, a downturn that crippled other progressive countries in Europe. Much of this resilience can be credited to the money the OFWs pump back into the Philippine economy. Knowing that fact, shouldnâ€™t the Philippine government do everything it can to make it easier for Filipinos who find work abroad to travel without any hassle?
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Apparently, the Philippine government found another way of milking some more cash out of our hapless and desperate workers who simply want to make a decent living overseas. Since March 2011, OFWs leaving the country have been required to pass through the labor assistance centers of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to â€œvalidateâ€ their exit clearance.
What does this mean? Not only do OFWs have to show some legitimate paperwork, they also have to pay a fee before they can jump on the plane. A concerned OFW was kind enough to send me a list of the documents and fees a departing OFW is required to produce before the POEA can give them a go signal to leave:
– Proof of existing employment (such as valid employment contract, employment
certificate, valid company ID, pay slips)
– Passport valid for at least 6 months from the time of departure
– Valid visa / re-entry permit / work permit or equivalent document
– POEA processing fee – PHp 100.00
– OWWA membership fee – US$25 or its peso equivalent (per contract basis)
– PhilHealth – PHp 900.00 (good for 1 year coverage)
– Pag-Ibig membership – PHp 100 (minimum)
Is it right for this department to be hassling our OFWs for paperwork at all? In an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, former ambassador to Greece and Cyprus, Rigoberto Tiglao wrote that he just realized that this directive could actually be unconstitutional. He emphasized that the freedom to leave the country is a fundamental human right as explained to him by an immigration official:
Section 6 in our Constitutionâ€™s Bill of Rights says: â€œNeither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.â€
The right is also emphasized by United Nations conventions that we have ratified. The UN Convention on Human Rights of 1948 states: â€œEveryone has the right to leave any country, including his own.â€ The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 says: â€œEveryone shall be free to leave the country, including his own.â€
It was said that in March 2008, the POEA under another administrator, already scrapped the required validation of OFW documents â€œfollowing a directive from then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to streamline processes in OFW deployment.â€ Good on the former President for using her head and for understanding what the OFWs have to go through.
But why did the new boss of the POEA revive this procedure? POEA Administrator Carlos Cao Jr. said in a statement earlier this year that he restored the validation of OFW documents â€œto ensure that only workers who are properly documented or have passed through the legal processes are allowed to leave the country.â€ To quote:
â€œWith the validation system in place, POEA is able to check on workers who are carrying tampered or fake travel documents secured through illegal meansâ€.
It was also recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani who urged the POEA to bring back the overseas employment certificates (OEC) validation “as the system proved effective against illegal deployment and human trafficking.”
However, there is no data of any kind showing how much illegal deployment or human trafficking the department has stopped when the clearance was still in place up until it was scrapped in 2008. In short, there is little justification for bringing this validation system back.
In fact, Ambassador Tiglao was even â€œbotheredâ€ by reports that there were Filipinas who were being â€œunwittingly luredâ€ into prostitution in Cyprus. He alleged that these Filipinas somehow manage to go out of the country even without proper documentation with the help of, in his own words, corrupt immigration officials. So therefore, requiring the OFWs to get an OEC before leaving to prevent illegal deployment is futile. No one can stop a legitimate OFW from doing a part time work as a prostitute anyway.
With an estimate of 3500 OFWs who go through immigration every day, getting an exit clearance can be an administrative nightmare at the international airport. You could say that the OFWs can get this clearance before the date of their flight because the OEC is valid until the date of their flight. But do you actually know anyone who is organized enough to do this? I donâ€™t think so.
And here is another catch: â€œre-validation of the clearance shall be allowed only for a flight that has been cancelled or re-scheduled for valid reasonsâ€. Say what? Does that mean, after going through the inconvenience of a delayed flight, you have to go through the POEA again?!? Who the heck comes up with these kinds of procedures? You can be forgiven for thinking that only someone who has nothing better to do could come up with red tape that is as daunting as this.
Annoyed Migrante-ME regional coordinator, John Leonard Monterona stated that “this situation warrants genuine OFW community representation in the POEA board and other decision-making bodies of concerned government agencies.” He stressed that the POEA board does not openly communicate with the OFW representatives in terms of policy-formulation to help ease their deplorable plight.
The POEA is not even clear on where the funds for the exit fees go. Itâ€™s not like it will help assist the OFWs who are in need overseas. Some of those who had to leave Libya earlier this year due to the uprising were forced to evacuate without any help from the Philippine government.
Even if you are not good in math, your calculator will show you that P100.00 multiplied by 3500 OFWs everyday is P350,000.00 daily that will go to…I really think that this exit fee should be scrapped.
And here are the real figures: according to POEA, the number of Filipino workers deployed overseas rose by 3.4 percent to 1.47 million last year from 1.42 million in 2009. Despite what is happening around the world, it seems that the demand for Filipino workers is steady.
Even remittances from OFWs grew 6.9 percent in May and is said to have been â€œits fastest monthly increase since Januaryâ€ and the major sources of remittances are: the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Germany.
A business report in June stated that â€œBangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. said in a statement the money transfers last May reached $1.688 billion or $110 million more than the $1.578 billion in the same month last year.â€
The figures alone should tell the Philippine government that it should be treating the OFWs as their number one asset and not their liability. And the OFWs should organized themselves more because they now have the leverage to demand for more respect from the Philippine government.
In life, things are not always what they seem.