Taking Flight: The Plight of the OFWs in their Own Home (Part 2) by Michelle Lado

Statements 31 Jul 2017
Taking Flight: The Plight of the OFWs in their Own Home (Part 2) by Michelle Lado
Photo from Bulatlat.com


The Philippine Government has taken upon itself to deploy Filipino workers as early as the 1970s through the Labor Export Policy program. It started in the pre-Martial Law days of the 1970s due to economic crisis. At that time, inflation and unemployment were at the rise. At the same time, there was an oil boom in the Middle East. That was a period where the people of Middle East started aggressively mining their oil reserves. In order to successfully make use of their oil wealth, they needed construction workers, engineers, and architects. The Marcos government saw that as a solution to resolve its internal problem of unemployment and social unrest. As a result, he crafted a system with Middle Eastern governments where the Filipino workers could be sent to the region.

But It was only a stopgap order by Marcos because the Middle East have a need, and because we have a need. Marcos saw Middle East as a lucrative business.

By this time, the Philippine government has institutionalized the Labor Export Policy. Its creation was through the amendment of the Labor Code in 1974. When the the Labor Code was amended, that is when the Overseas Employment Program was interpolated to be part of the labor program of the Philippine government. This is their legal basis to escape the clamor of the migrants sector. This means that the Philippine government will be active in generating jobs via overseas employment. So since the 1970s, deployment was unstoppable. Even when the Migrants Act was enacted on 1995, the deployment was not restrained. By 2104, deployment has reached 1.83 million. In 2016, 6,000 Filipino workers would leave for abroad everyday, and that’s only through POEA, not included are those who use student and tourist visas. Filipinos are now dispersed in over 240 countries.

The PH government maintains their denial of the existence of LEP, but a look at the allocated budget of POEA for overseas employment promotion during the term of Noynoy Aquino reveals that it increased to 91% from 20%. Such is the aggression of their promotion that one can see them in other schemes. An example is job fairs being held across the country. They target enough manpower to meet the global demands for labor. Their budget for promotion is even bigger than the legal assistance needed by OFWs in grave need.

An overview at the kind of jobs the Filipino workers are being pushed to take up are service-oriented. Every year the Philippines deploy around 200 thousand domestic helpers, drivers, factory workers, caregivers, nurses, and other jobs known as 3D: Difficult, dangerous, dirty.

There is only a small percentage of available jobs for professionals.

Unabated deployment lies in the reality of the high remittances from OFWs. Almost 20% of the Philippine economy is being kept afloat by remittances. In 2015, 28.5 billion remittances were recorded. But this was only through “proper” channels.

Remittance salvages the economy.

The Philippine government argues that the remittances go to funding basic services. But a look at the macro level will reveal that the remittances are being used to cure the perennial trade deficit. Because of the export-oriented and import-dependent nature of the Philippine trade, there is always imbalance. To offset the deficit, the remittances come to the rescue.

The remittances are used by the families of the OFWs for consumer goods and not for investments and savings. These consumer goods are from the imported market so whatever they purchase does not go come back for the prosperity of the country. Whatever goes in comes out. Remittances are not only for the salvation of the economy but also for foreign investors for foreign capital for us to have a steady capacity to purchase their products.

Another form of state profiteering is state exactions. While the Philippine government kept repeating that there should be no expense, the truth is there is a long list of fees required to be paid in order for a Filipino worker to be able to go abroad to work: Passport, documents, processing fees, POEA fee, OWWA fee, Pag-ibig fee, Philhealth—all these amount to around 15,000 Php. If we will compute this overall fee from the paying 6,500 Filipino workers who depart for abroad everyday, the Philippine government stands to collect 100,000,000 Php everyday.

Where do all these go? Supposedly to the Filipino people, through services, because it is like taxation.

For example, in OWWA fees. It is like an insurance for OWAA members because it is a trust fund. It is the money that OFWs pay to OWWA before they leave and the money are supposed to return to them in the form of services. In reality, OFWs don’t get to avail these services. If ever they do, only a morsel of it because the programs and benefits being offered by OWWA are very restrictive. To wit, an OFW’s membership is only limited to their contract. You are only an OWWA member if you’re still an OFW or if you still have an active contract. Once your contract expires, you’re automatically no longer covered by benefits. And in the case of domestic helpers and factory workers, even if it is indicated in their contracts that they only work for 4 hours, in actuality they work 8 hours. These abuses will manifest in their health and well-being by the time they return home to the Philippines, where they are no longer an OWWA member, thus not covered by OWWA benefits. The same goes with Philhealth. There is no accredited centers outside of the Philippines for them to apply for membership. Worse, their employers don’t allow them such mobility for self-care.

In reality, remittances are used by the government for its sole gain: It invests on lucrative ventures to further earn itself more money. And this large amount of accumulated money is what is being tapped by the government for its political spending. For example, the pork barrel and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). When they get questioned where the money came from, they say it’s from the “savings”.

The way foreign employers treat Filipino workers are slaves, that they can be bought and they will do everything at their behest. This is not because the foreign employers are evil inherent of their race or nationality, but because human rights violation is what Labor Export Policy is promoting.

Labor Export Policy is a vicious cycle. On actual site, there is contract violations such as non-payment of salary, denial of benefits, maltreatment and discrimination, violence against women, and gender-based violence. OFWs also face arrest and illegal detention if they practice self-defense; trumped-up charges are filed against them. An example of this is when a worker wants to go home already due to abuse. Their employer will concoct charges against the worker because it is the employer or the recruitment agency who will need to pay for the expenses needed for the worker to go home. When the worker gets jailed, it will be the government who would have to send them home.

And when they get home, the promise of reintegration is nowhere to be found. In this cycle, the problem of brain drain, deskilling, and what they call the social cost of migration, which is the separation of family and which results to juvenile delinquency, is prominent. It is not only the OFWs that are affected by Labor Export Policy but their families as well.

Inherent in the Labor Export Policy is exploitation. News of OFWs suffering from abuse and rape are not incidental but a direct product of this oppressive scheme.

So what must we do? Migrante is firm with its call to end the Labor Export Program. Its ending is not to take away the right of Filipino workers to go abroad but for the government to stop its exploitation of the Filipino people. Migrante call for the end of forced migration, which is akind of migration that is driven by the conditions in the Philippines such as lack of land, lack of opportunities, and low wages.

“To end LEP it must be on the framework of changing the stus quo. Before we can exit LEP we have to industrialize our own economy, and implement genuine agrarian reform to generate livelihood for Filipinos. Part of being an OFW is to struggle for the change. In the end, only through collective action can we achieve bigger victories,” Castillo said.

In Migrante, no case is discriminated. But it is important for the families seeking assistance to know what Migrante is about. On Migrante’s end, it is crucial to make it clear to the families that the framework upon which their problem is to be solved is for the assertion of their rights, which will be used as a bridge to challenge repressive policies, to connect their cases to bigger social problems so they can be part of Change. The goal is to empower them. The contract that binds Migrante and thefamilies of the OFWs is to change the system together.

It is the challenge on the part of Migrante to educate them and the Filipino people in general why they are angry at the government. Migrante has no resource and manpower; the organization can only unleash in them the power to channel their own anger to struggle for concrete Change.

May the next gathering-celebration for an OFW be about their permanent homecoming because the Philippine government is fulfilling its job already of providing quality life to the Filipino people.

← The Communique of the Asia Consultation on “Human Trafficking and Forced Migration: A Call for Decent Labour and a Living Wage” Taking Flight: The Plight of the OFWs in Their Own Home (Part 1) by Michelle Lado →

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Michelle Lado

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