By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate is planning to include in the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) a special provision that would compel the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in issuing special working permits (SWPs) to foreigners.
The move was decided upon by senators Wednesday during the Upper Chamber’s deliberation of the BI’s allocation in the P3.757-trillion proposed national budget for this year as Senator Joel Villanueva, raised the recent arrests of illegal Chinese workers in the country.
The chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development questioned the BI’s authority to issue permits to foreign workers, saying the agency lacked the technical capability to vet the entry of foreign workers.
The senator said he understood the necessity of the special permits from BI, since these are normally issued to artists holding concerts, basketball imports, and the likes. The permits are granted to foreigners who intend to work in the Philippines for less than six months.
He, on the other hand, observed that the BI has released permits to workers whose jobs can be done by the Filipino labor force.
“Only the DOLE has the capability to assess whether foreigners seeking to work in the Philippines could be allowed to do so. Clearly, the BI went a step too far in issuing its special working permits,” Villanueva said in a statement on Thursday.
Citing statistics from the BI, Villanueva said the bureau issued 185,009 SWPs from January to November 2018. He compared it to the 115,652 alien employment permits (AEP) issued by the DOLE from 2015 to 2017.
“Meron pong nabibigyan ng SWPs na mismo ang DOLE nagugulat bakit mabibigyan ang isang construction worker, ang call center agent…mechanic helper, mechanic feeder, di po ba yan kayang punan ng ating mga kababayan?” the senator said in his interpellation, recalling the hearing conducted by his committee last year on the issue.
Villanueva stressed that Article 12, Section 12 of the Constitution accords the preferential use of Filipino labor.
He also asked about the labor panel’s discovery concerning expedited SWPs at the BI satellite office in Taguig, where staff allegedly charge P5,000 without receipt for its release within the day.
“If you multiply the number of special working permits with the supposed ‘expedite fee’ being charged there, that’s already around P925 million from January to November 2018. Where did this money go?” Villanueva said.
In the end, senators agreed to insert the special provision that would improve the coordination between the BI and DOLE in the release of special working permits. The Senate then approved the agency’s 2019 budget for amendments in the GAB.
“I’m not against foreign workers coming to our shores because the expertises they bring benefit our country. What I’m advocating against is the proliferation of illegal workers who are taking jobs away from our countrymen,” Villanueva said.