Over 26,000 Filipino illegal migrants return from Sabah

By Mayen Jaymalin, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 25 2014 02:50 AM | Updated as of Mar 25 2014 10:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Over 26,000 Filipino migrants have returned home from Sabah since the Malaysian government’s crackdown on illegal workers, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported yesterday.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) regional office in Western Mindanao has assisted 26,434 returning workers.

In the first three months of the year, OWWA assisted the returning workers who were temporarily housed at a one-stop shop in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga City.

Baldoz said the OWWA regional office facilitated the application for livelihood assistance of returning workers, and endorsed to the Landbank more projects under the government’s P2-billion Reintegration Program.

OWWA also oriented the returning workers on the legal processes of overseas employment.

Baldoz further reported that DOLE and OWWA regional offices in Western Mindanao also held a job fair in Tawi-Tawi to provide new employment for returning workers from Sabah.

It was the first job fair held in Tawi-Tawi, Baldoz said, adding that DOLE is exerting efforts to make it easy and fast for jobseekers to find work that fits their qualifications, interests and career inclinations.

During the job fair, labor officials reminded job seekers of the importance of being legally documented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by discussing the welfare programs and services of OWWA and the anti-illegal recruitment and anti-human trafficking programs of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

“It is a well-known fact that a lot of people in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu go to Sabah to seek employment via the backdoor, without passing through the right and legal channels of the POEA and its licensed recruitment agencies,” Baldoz said.

As a result, many OFWs from Tawi-Tawi and Sulu end up being exploited by unscrupulous employers and get deported once caught by immigration officials for illegally staying in Sabah.

Exodus of domestic helpers unstoppable

Meanwhile, recruitment leaders reported yesterday that the exodus of Filipino domestic helpers to Saudi Arabia and other countries abroad remains unstoppable.

Recruitment leaders said more than half a million Filipinos, mostly women, have left the country in the last six years to work as household service workers (HSWs) in various countries.

Despite Philippine government efforts to limit the hiring of HSWs abroad, recruitment officials said 662,182 Filipino HSWs were hired in various countries, particularly in the Middle East.

Government records also showed that the Filipino HSW has been the most deployed of various skilled workers abroad.

From 50,082 in 2008, the number of newly hired HSWs rose to 71,557 in 2009. A year later, it went up to 96,583 then increased to 142,692 in 2011, and to 155,831 in 2012.

Based on preliminary data of the POEA, 145,447 Filipino HSWs were hired in 2013 but recruitment officials said the figure could still go up to more than 200,000.

The number of HSWs deployed abroad temporarily went down when the POEA adopted in 2006 the so-called HSWs Reform Package that set at $400 the monthly minimum pay for HSWs deployed abroad.

Labor officials said the policy was meant to protect HSWs and minimize the then growing number of abuses being committed against them.

But recruitment officials said the policy apparently failed to curb the deployment of HSWs, considering that the number of Filipino HSWs being hired abroad continued to rise since 2008.

“The market has spoken and apparently the HSW Reform Package failed to achieve the undeclared objective of reducing the deployment of HSWs,” a recruitment official said.

Recruitment leaders said many Filipino women still prefer to work as HSWs due to lack of employment and livelihood opportunities in their areas. They noted that most of the Filipino HSWs come from Mindanao, where placement agencies have set up branches and are actively recruiting workers.