MANILA, Philippines – An advocate of overseas Filipino workers on Thursday urged a congresswoman to withdraw a bill she filed that seeks to require departing overseas Filipino workers to pay US$50 as contribution to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration fund (OWWA).
“Madam Congresswoman, your bill has caused an uproar in OFW communities across the globe. This is not an exaggeration. It touches a sensitive nerve because of its gross insensitivity to the heavily burdened life of an OFW,” Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said in her open letter to Manila 4th District Congresswoman Maria Theresa Bonoan-David.
Ople was referring to House Bill 6195 which the lawmaker authored. The bill, according to the press release of Bonoan-David, seeks to amend the Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.
The bill “provides that for every worker recruited or deployed overseas, recruitment agency or its employer, in addition to the obligation to repatriate its workers shall contribute $50 to OWWA’s Emergency Repatriation Fund”.
Bonoan-David said the bill “intends to provide the necessary measures for the government to carry out its responsibility to assist distressed OFWs in cases of war, epidemic, disaster or calamities, natural or man-made, and other similar events, and promote their general welfare”.
“Withdraw your bill because clearly it is not in the interest of the OFWs you wish to help. If you wish to stand your ground, then at least come out in the open and let our OFW brothers and sisters understand the intellectual process that led you to formulate this measure, word for word. I, for one, would like to hear your side,” Ople said.
Sick and tired of fees
Ople said OFWs are sick and tired of being charged with all kinds of mandatory fees and contributions prior to leaving.
She also pointed out that all fees are often shouldered by the worker and not by their agencies or employers.
“Everyone in a position of power assumes that it is the foreign employer that pays for the OWWA membership dues and other fees of newly-hired OFWs. This isn’t the case anymore, and whenever an OFW needs to acquire an OEC (Overseas Employment Contract) either as a balik-manggagawa or to transfer to a new job, more often than not all these government-mandated payments come from the worker’s pocket,” said Ople.
The former labor undersecretary also stressed that OWWA is a trust fund composed of workers’ contributions.
“One does not legislate any increase for whatever reason without consulting the workers. Otherwise, that is tantamount to a financial ambush via legislation. Lagi na lang ganoon. Para lumago ang pera ng PhilHealth at Pag-IBIG gawin mandatory ang membership ng OFWs. Nagugulat na lang sila. Di kasi tinatanong at kinokonsulta ng maayos. Charge more, explain later,” she said.
Another point raised by Ople is that the bill contradicts an existing law. Section 4 of RA 10022 states: “All fees for services being charged by any government agency on migrant workers prevailing at the time of the effectivity of this Rule shall not be increased.”
“Why pass a law that violates an existing law?” she said.
Ople added, “US$50 may seem small to you. But it is a big deal to our OFWs especially those who are supposed to be paid more than they get based on approved contracts honored in breach once they step outside our shores. If we can’t impose our model contracts on foreign employers to protect our workers, why charge them more? Why charge them twice as much each time they leave for emergencies that are confined to one or two countries at best?”
“You filed the bill. So please tell us, do you really have the intention of pursuing its approval? If yes, then for whom? Because frankly, no one seems to be cheering you on. Based on the number of online petitions against HB 6195, I think it’s safe to say that the OFWs hate your bill – to the max, and beyond”.
OFWs air protest in social media
Meanwhile, the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA), strongly denounced the bill.
The group vowed that it will continue to use social media to protect Filipino working abroad “from this thoughtless proposition”.
“We implore Hon. Bonoan-David to retract this bill or we will continue to raise our blogs and walls to protect the OFWs from this thoughtless proposition. You will then be held accountable before millions of Filipinos who have a member of their families working abroad.
A Facebook page called Global OFW Voices was also created to air its opposition to House Bill 6195. So far, the page generated more than 3,000 “likes”.
“Madam Congresswoman, with this BILL, you may have good intention, but you are fighting against people, the OFWs, who are already tired of politicians milking their very hard earned dollar. We are OFWs. We are not heroes. We are Filipino citizens who only wanted a better life. Don't make it hard for us,” the page administrator wrote.
For its part, Migrante International suggested that the lawmaker reconsider the bill after conducting consultation with OFWs and other stakeholders.
"We do not know who Rep. Bonoan-David has been consulting but while her intentions may be noble, the bill is definitely unwelcome to OFWs. We will be more than willing to sit down with her and explain to her our basis for strong opposition to the bill," said Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.