Gov’t Rakes Billions of Pesos Annually on OFW Processing Charges

Aling Rose (real name withheld upon request), 47, a single mother of four, has been working in Oman for almost six years now.

As in the case of other Filipinos who go to work abroad, poverty had pushed her to try her luck working as a domestic helper for a wealthy businessman in Oman. With a salary of more than P12,000 (US$200) a month, she is trying to make her children’s life, somehow, comfortable.

“Mahal ang mag-abroad” (It’s expensive to work abroad), she told this reporter in an interview the night before she went home to her town in Occidental Mindoro.

“Sa medical pa lang, gagastos ka na nang P5,000 ($103.76). Iba pa ang bayad sa OWWA (Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration), taxes, passport renewal, at marami pang ibang dokumentong kailangan mo para makaalis ka. Siguro, gagastos ka nang mga P12,000 ($249.04) o higit pa, sa pag-aasikaso pa lamang ng mga papeles mo. Kapag baguhan ka, kailangan mo ring maglagay para makaalis” (For the medical examination alone, you will spend around P5,000. Other fees include OWWA membership fee, taxes, passport renewal and many other documents you need to process to be able to go abroad. Perhaps, you will shell out at least P12,000 or more to process your papers. If you’re new, some agencies charge a placement fee for you to work abroad), she said.

However, during the interview, she refused to reveal how much it cost her during her first time working abroad but she told this reporter that it was quite a sum.

Raking in billions out of processing fees

A study conducted by the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) revealed that the government rakes in an astounding P16.601-billion (US$344.745 million) through documentary fees charged to Filipinos who want to work overseas.

Ferdinand Gaite, national president of Courage, said in his paper titled “State Exaction and Corruption: Robbing the Filipino Migrants Twice”, which he had delivered during the 1st International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees in Manila last year, that the said amount could have been increased due to several seminars and testing that the government now requires a prospective overseas Filipino worker (OFW) to take.

The estimate was based on the 2007 statistics on the number of overseas Filipinos which the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) had published in 2008. Based on the Compendium of OFW Statistics 2007, there are 1.08 million Filipinos who went overseas to work that year.

Each of them, says Gaite, needed to pay at least P15,400 ($320.093) to process the necessary documents and other requirements for working abroad.

In his paper, Gaite revealed that 76 signatures are needed to be able to complete all the documentary requirements for working abroad. Each signature amounting to some P100 ($2.975).

“Aside from POEA that issues the overseas employment certificate, there are 10 other government entities involved in the whole documentation process of deployment. Employment certificates are authenticated by the Regional Trial Court; diplomas and transcript of records are authenticated by the Department of Education (DepEd) or the Commission on Higher Education (CHED); board ratings and board certificates are authenticated by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC); birth and marriage certificates are authenticated by the National Statistics Office (NSO); medical certificates are authenticated by the Department of Health (DOH),” said Gaite.

Furthermore, authentication of these documentary requirements likewise follows a process involving Authentication Unit, Legal Office (AULO)-Malacañang, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the foreign embassies concerned, Gaite said.

In addition to these, an applicant must also secure a passport, a seaman’s or artist’s record book, and necessary clearances such as police and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances, and even barangay (village) clearance, Gaite further said.

Seafarers pay more

The International Seafarers’ Action (ISAC) Philippines Foundation, Inc.’s paper, meanwhile, says that the government is raking too much also from the seafarers.

In their 2004 Preliminary Study on the Marginalization of Seafarers, ISAC revealed that after a seafarer gets his degree, he still has to face the daunting prospect of qualifying to become a seafarer.

“[T]the qualification requirements for seafaring are very stringent. International regulations and competency standards require huge financial investments in terms of training courses and other documents,” the study read.

“But the seafarer is further faced with a confused government bureaucracy that multiplies the processes one needs to undergo to qualify,” it further read.

Like any other OFW, government-issued documents such as passports, (from the Dept. of Foreign Affairs or DFA), seafarer’s registry (POEA), seaman’s book (MARINA), and certificates of competency (PRC or Professional Regulations Commission for officers, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA for ratings), must be secured at the seafarer’s expense, says ISAC.

A seafarer who refused to be named said he needed to shell out at least P200,000 just to go on board.

Based on the ISAC study, seafarers are also made to undergo what is described as unnecessary training.

These additional training sessions are often required by the agency but are not required to get on board, the seafarers discover later. This, the ISAC study said is in connection to the government’s labor export policy which prescribes additional training (on top of the STCW requirements) to “maintain the competitive edge of Filipino seafarers.”

Corruption in the government robs OFWs, too

Aside from the exorbitant fees being charged by the government and some manning agencies, the OFW is also being robbed by corruption in government, say the two groups.

ISAC discovered that the average expenses of the respondents for each of these government documents exceeded the actual processing fee. This is due to graft and corruption in the bureaucracy, ISAC said.

“Individuals who were interviewed explained that sometimes it is ‘necessary’ to pay more to ‘expedite’ the processing of their documents. This shows how corruption is bred by the existing set-up of multifarious bureaucratic layers and requirements,” ISAC said.

Gaite revealed that there undetermined amounts collected from processing by the MECO (Manila Economic and Cultural Office) which are not formally entered into the national receipts of the Philippine government but go directly to the Office of the President as “donations”.

“Moreover, in 2004, P530.382 ($9,412,633.027 based on March 1, 2004 exchange rate) million worth of OWWA Trust Fund was transferred to PhilHealth as part of the campaign kitty of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” said Gaite.

Other case of alleged corruption involving the OFW fund in the OWWA was the Classroom Galing sa Manggagawa Abroad program (CGMA) by the government, for which money was collected from OFWs purportedly to establish education facilities abroad. However, the facilities never materialized, said Gaite. (Noel Sales Barcelona/Bulatlat.com)