by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO
MANDALUYONG CITY–A BID to stomp out illegal recruitment in La Union province within a year got off on a slow start, with the nonprofit group leading this ambitious project bracing itself for “booby traps” along the way.
Marge Madiguid of Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc. said there was no formal launch yet for its “zero illegal recruitment campaign,” planned to start this June.
The campaign won for Kanlungan a P0.92-million grant in May from the World Bank-sponsored contest called “Panibagong Paraan”.
Madiguid told the OFW Journalism Consortium that while there’s no formal launch for the project, they have met and discussed the campaign with local government and nongovernment groups and agencies.
She’s hoping that all committees they plan to organize for the campaign would be formed before July.
But the slow start is the least of Kanlungan’s problems as Madiguid said a lot of hurdles await the project.
The biggest hurdle, she said, is the alleged links between recruiters and executives of the local government, which is one of Kanlungan’s partner in the project.
La Union, some 235 kilometers north of Manila, hit the headlines in 2006 when former Agoo assistant provincial prosecutor Catalino Pepi was reportedly sentenced to life imprisonment for illegally recruiting factory workers bound for South Korea.
The conviction decision of the Regional Trial Court in Agoo read that Pepi connived with a Manila recruitment agency, and even used his office, to collect placement fees ranging between P40,000 to P150,000 from each applicant.
Another news report cited the arrest of provincial board member Pablo Olarte after three people filed a case against the former mayor of Agoo, La Union, for not being sent overseas.
A 2006 POEA release cited Olarte as proprietor of Sabloak Philippines, a consultancy firm offering paid services for jobseekers wanting to meet immigration requirements for Canada.
Madiguid, however, defended Olarte, describing the government officials as a “victim, too.”
She added that Olarte, the former mayor of Agoo, is a pro bono lawyer for three illegally-recruited provincemates.
That explains his attachment to recruitment regulations, Madiguid said.
Olarte apparently lobbied for the provincial ordinance requiring recruiters to apply for license from the provincial government before practicing their trade.
Still, she thinks the project will “test his sincerity”.
LA UNION has the largest number of recorded illegal recruitment cases for the Ilocos region, according to government data.
Kanlungan Centre, a 20-year-old counseling center for domestic workers, has provided service to more than 300 IR cases in La Union over an 11-year period.
This meant on the average, the Quezon City-headquartered group’s satellite office in La Union, handled 27 cases a year.
Deployment data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in 2006 showed that La Union was the birthplace of some 9,677 land-based and 1,717 sea-based temporary contract workers.
On the other hand, 1988-2005 data of registered emigrants from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas revealed some 15,343 permanent residents abroad came from La Union.
According to Madiguid, some 30 recruitment agencies are active in the province.
POEA’s directory of licensed agencies shows that La Union has a homegrown recruitment agency, Beldevere Manpower, and nine Metro Manila-headquartered licensed recruitment agencies that have branch offices in the province.
Ten of these are in San Fernando City: 2000 Miles Placement Agency; Active Works Inc.; Aim High International Placement Corp. (two branches); Greenworld Placement Services; Humania International Inc.; Interworld Placement Center; and, St. Georges Recruitment International (two branches).
Another recruitment agency, AD’s Overseas Placement Agency, has a branch office in the municipality of Bauang.
Beldevere Manpower (www.beldeveremanpower.net), for its part, even has extension offices in Manila and in London, United Kingdom.
The La Union provincial government website showed that Beldevere and three Metro Manila-based recruiters placed job orders in 12 countries through the provincial government’s Public Employment Services Office (PESO).
The PESO hosts job fairs for local and overseas jobs.
In a State of the Province Address, Governor Pablo Ortega reported that in 2006, the PESOs tapped 250 firms, recruitment agencies, and government offices for local and overseas jobs.
Out of 3,589 applicants for local and overseas placement, some 1,713 were employed, Ortega reported.
However, the website of the Labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment noted that a dozen of the 21 PESOs in La Union are “non-operational”.
Four of the nine areas of Kanlungan-La Union’s project sites, namely Bagulin, Naguilian, Santol, and Sudipen, have non-operational PESOs.
“They do not screen the companies involved in their job fairs,” said Madiguid.
She cited an IR case that Kanlungan handled wherein the potential OFW learned about an overseas job opening through the PESO.