by RUBEN JEFFREY ASUNCION
OFW Journalism Consortium
MAKATI CITY—THREE candidates gunning for the presidency promised if elected, they will throw cash and strike deals with labor receiving countries in relation to overseas employment of Filipinos.
However, former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Senator Manuel Villar– failed to identify where they would get the money since any of them will have to contend with a yawning budget deficit.
It was only Senator Richard Gordon who was specific in identifying sources of cash for his proposed $30-billion provident fund for overseas Filipino workers.
Gordon said he promises to “link up” the private pension fund manager Social Security System with the Government Service Insurance System. The money, he said, will be managed by professional finance managers. He didn’t identify these managers.
The candidates bared their platforms for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at a forum in January, weeks before the formal campaign period, now on its height, began.
Teodoro, the standard-bearer of the ruling coalition of three political parties said that overseas migration is a “reality that we should not ignore,” given the touted economic benefits the country gets from overseas workers.
In return for “importantly contributing” to the country’s foreign exchange, stimulating domestic consumption and contributing a considerable percentage of our GNP, the government should provide the OFWs with “portable social security benefits” and strengthening institutions aimed at assisting distressed OFWs, he said.
Cumulative remittances of overseas Filipinos (OF) coursed through banks were stronger-than-expected in 2009, growing year-on-year by 5.6 percent to US$17.3 billion, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) executive Diwa C. Guinigundo said in a statement.
In 2008 figures showed that OFWs sent home P141.9 billion (76% of which were through formal channels).
Teodoro said he would buffer up the coffer of the foreign affairs department.
“We should enhance the DFA’s capability to take care of them (by) augmenting its resources.” Teodoro pointed out.
Under the 1995 Migration Workers’ and Overseas Filipino Act, the DFA is tasked with providing legal assistance and repatriating OFWs facing legal cases and other problems abroad.
For 2009, the department received P230.9 million (roughly US$5 million at US$1=P46) ) for the “Implementation of RA 8042” heading -which covers legal assistance- out of the department’s total budget worth P12.6 billion.
The DFA had received P236.7 million for that heading in 2008, up from P87.7 million in 2007. The department’s total budget for 2008 was P10.2 billion. This year, the government allocated P12.5 billion for the DFA.
Teodoro also suggests that the government enter into bilateral agreements with Middle Eastern countries-such as Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia-where many Filipino workers are deployed.
He said the government should emulate the Canadian model of bilateral agreements that emphasizes giving equal benefits for workers from both signatory nations, avoiding workers having to pay for their overseas employment, and training the workers to be deployed to the other country.
“We should (use) the Canadian model where there are three principles: parity of labor benefits, no employment costs and an exchange leverage impact program,” Teodoro added.
Villar, Nacionalista Party presidential contender, claimed if elected president his OFW program will focus on providing “safety nets” for Filipino workers.
Villar recommended repatriating all OFWs who are stranded in other countries due to labor and judicial problems.
He said the government will pay for their trip home by using money from a repatriation fund.
So that the government and the OFWs can have an idea which country does not treat well our OFWs, Villar recommended the foreign affairs department, OWWA and POEA identify “problem areas and problem professions” and then come out with specific solutions.
If the OFWs know about these kinds of information, they can know who they can talk to if they face a problem there, Villar added, speaking in Filipino.
Records from Migrante advocacy group show that as of December 2009, 300 OFWs require immediate repatriation from their host countries. The workers- said to be abused and exploited by their employers- are mostly based in the Middle East. Almost half of them were caregivers or domestic helpers.
A cursory look at Villar’s record as senator showed he authored or sponsored 13 bills on OFWs for the 14th Senate. In April 2008, he had filed a bill recommending the government set aside a P1-billion repatriation fund for OFWs in distress. The bill has since been substituted at the committee level along with 10 other bills.
Early in the forum, Villar had suggested that if elected president, he would first visit Saudi Arabia, where 1.04 million OFWs are estimated to work there as of 2007. This action, he said, will show a “good message” that the government is concerned about alleviating the OFWs’ problems on protection from abuse and assistance during times of distress.
Gordon, Bagumbayan (or New Nation) Party standard bearer, also wants that OFWs be deployed only if their minimum montly wage in other countries is set at $400 (P18,000) and that migrant workers’ capabilities be uplifted.
“Migration has become an important issue and it is important that the Philippine government should adopt a very aggressive policy ensuring (that our overseas workers are well compensated financially), Gordon said.
“They should not be seen as domestics, but as governess, tutors if you will,” the former Subic Freeport administrator added.
Absent during the two-hour forum were Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party, independent candidate Senator Ana Maria Consuelo Madrigal, former president Joseph Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, evangelist Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas) and Olongapo city councilor JC Delos Reyes (Ang Kapatiran party).
All are also running for the highest position in the Republic.
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