Freeing OFWs from abuse and virtual slavery

Published February 12, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator
Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

By Atty. Joey D. Lina

Former Senator


The lifeless body of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Dimapilis – found recently in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait where the OFW had worked for a Lebanese-Syrian couple – ought to jolt all appropriate sectors and government agencies into action.

“When will this inhumane treatment of our Filipino workers end? To the Kuwaiti government and all others, we seek and expect your assistance in this regard,” an exasperated President Duterte said in Davao City last week. “We do not seek special treatment or privileges for our workers but we do expect respect for their dignity and basic human rights. Keep them free from harm. I implore you. Nakiki-usap ako sa lahat ng Arabo (I am pleading to all Arabs), the Filipino is no slave to anyone, anywhere, and everywhere.”

Asking that foreign employers ensure that the OFW’s “dignity is honored and the rights of a human being [are] upheld and respected,” the President also said: “We send to you a Filipino worker, hale and hearty, determined to work his heart out in order to give his family a decent and comfortable life in the Philippines. Do not give us back a battered worker or a mutilated corpse.”

Our President cannot be faulted if he feels OFWs have been so oppressed and subjected to subhuman working conditions akin to that endured by slaves. It is indeed appalling that many victims of modern slavery are OFWs – those raped, butchered, maltreated,  and deprived of basic necessities, including wages, particularly in war-torn areas.

And the discrimination suffered by some OFWs can also be appalling. In 2013, a ruling by Hong Kong’s highest court – declaring that a Filipina who had worked there for nearly 27 years as a domestic helper was not entitled to permanent residency – had caused a stir. OFWs chanting, “We are workers, not slaves,” protested the ruling that “seemed to treat maids an inferior caste,” compared to other foreigners who become permanent residents there after seven years.

The sad plight of many OFWs has revealed many horror stories all these years, yet the exodus of Filipinos has continued. Every administration in the post-Marcos era has hoped foreign employment would only be a stop-gap measure to keep our economy afloat and enable people to survive financial hardships, and that the time will soon come when families would no longer have to be apart. But since the ‘90s, Filipinos have lived like modern-day gypsies. Go to the ends of the earth, there’s a Filipino.

By force of dire circumstances – severe shortage of local opportunities to make a decent living with the apparent failure of government and the private sector to sufficiently meet the ever-rising demand for jobs – more than 12 million Filipinos have been compelled to bite the bullet and seek their fortunes elsewhere in the world.

The continuing exodus of Filipinos in search of greener pastures comes at a heavy price. Physical separation of parents from children and of husbands from wives led to rampant drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, infidelity and marital breakups, to name a few of the so-called “social costs” taking its toll on families of OFWs.

While advanced communications technology enables family members to be virtually in touch with each other thru the webcam, sociologists insist there is no substitute for constant physical presence of parents in exercising parental authority and guiding their children to be on the right track and strengthen the moral fiber binding families.

Apart from the social costs is the reality that our country is forfeiting its chances of competing globally in many fields, from science and medicine to master carpentry, due to the loss of human capital especially our skilled workers and best minds.

Despite government efforts to turn the tide, the exodus continues unabated with about 5,000 Filipinos still leaving daily. A look at the huge demand for new or renewed passports that continues to overwhelm the Department of Foreign Affairs’ consular offices shows a seemingly irreversible trend.

But though it might look irreversible yet, President Duterte’s order for a total ban on OFWs to Kuwait, plus the repatriation of distressed OFWs, can be seen as a turning point, especially if government is compelled to do everything necessary, with help from the private sector, to provide alternative domestic employment and make the economy less dependent on OFW remittances to keep it afloat.

And among the necessary measures is the full implementation of the strengthened Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act, RA 10691, to pave the way for a more efficient system of facilitating employment at grassroots level.

The law signed in 2015 calls for establishing PESOs in all provinces, cities, and municipalities, to be operated and funded by local government units and linked to the central and regional offices of the Department of Labor and Employment for coordination and technical support. It amended RA 8759 that set up PESOs only in provincial capitals, key cities, and strategic areas.

Its purpose is similar to that of the Laguna Employment and Manpower Development Council (LEMDC) which I organized in the province of Laguna when I was its governor in the late 1990s. LEMDC tackled unemployment and livelihood concerns and specifically pursued job creation efforts and training of unskilled workers for business enterprises in the province. The LEMDC concept and organizational structure were later used by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as its provincial template.

The PESO law, as well as strengthening our micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), is the key to finding alternatives for our OFWs and turning around the labor export policy that has been entrenched for decades.


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