What should come next after OFWs get own department?

Published January 10, 2022, 12:03 AM

by Jun Concepcion


Jun Concepcion

Understandably, advocates of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers, notably Eli Mua in Saudi Arabia, cheered President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing on Dec. 29 of a new law that creates a new department exclusively for overseas Filipinos.

They believe firmly that a dedicated department will resolve most problems that OFWs experience, especially in the Middle East where some of the most horrific and brutal treatment of Filipino women are committed until today.

Even an irregular monitoring of various OFW Facebook groups in Saudi Arabia and several other countries in the Middle East will clearly indicate general maltreatment of Filipino women mostly employed as domestic helpers in the region.

Urgent pleas for rescue from seriously abused OFWs and repatriation back home are alarmingly common.

The litany of abuses and maltreatment of Filipino women in the Middle East inevitably reflects the epic failure of the country’s labor officials to secure adequate assurance from their counterparts in the region in spite of their pronouncements that they have done what they could for OFWs.

Another clear and incontrovertible indication of the impunity in which OFWs are abused is the glaring lack of convictions of culprits in the Middle East, even those who have been accused of killing hapless Filipino women. In the absence of published media reports about convictions and official government statements, it is safe to deduce that abusers of Filipino women in the Middle East have been getting away with impunity with their brutalities.

Pledges by Philippine officials to seek justice for victims of abuses and even deaths in the Middle East have largely amounted to nothing more than empty and meaningless words until today. Otherwise, they could have announced – even just once a year – successful prosecution by way of jailing or even execution of a Middle Eastern culprit who has horribly abused, raped or killed an OFW.

Though it is unclear when the first batch of officials of the OFW department will be appointed and when the new agency can start operating after getting operating funds from Congress, the first and foremost thing that they should do is to start with the most serious and fundamental problems plaguing overseas Filipinos in general.
The following, in my view, should be first and foremost priority of the first batch of officers of the OFW Department.

1] Identify the most serious problems plaguing OFWs, especially the Kafala scheme across the Middle East. Since most OFW problems occur in the Middle East, a comprehensive review of the government’s overseas deployment policy and strategies in that region should serve as the most auspicious and best start.

2] Draw up a holistic and comprehensive macro and micro policies and strategies, aimed at addressing and resolving the most serious identified problems.

3] A critical evaluation and recalibration of the overseas deployment policy and strategy should entail reducing or winding down Middle East deployments in favor of increased deployments to the Asia Pacific where general work conditions are much better than those in the Middle East.

4] Wherever feasible, government-to-government OFW deployment agreements should be forged, like those with South Korea, to reduce drastically problems in overseas deployments.

5] Compare formulated strategies with those now in place and in use to determine which ones will produce the best and most effective results. Unless this exercise is done, defective policies and strategies will continue to be used – all to the detriment of Filipino women in the Middle East.

6] Draw up a list of senior officials in key government agencies in different Middle East countries, relevant NGOs there, international agencies, select OFW advocates and other relevant parties who can help put into action holistic and macro strategies to be drawn up by OFW department officials.

7]  Draw up a stringent one-strike policy against illegal and errant recruiters, whether agencies or individuals. To ensure its effective implementation, licenses to operate by errant agencies should be immediately suspended and their assets frozen temporarily via court order. Accused individual recruiters should be detained temporarily in case of multiple  complaints and severity of alleged malpractices.

While this manner of crackdown appears  draconian and in contravention of the fundamental principle of a suspect  being presumed innocent until proven guilty, there is more than ample justification for this aggressive approach and strategy.  More often than not, victims of callous recruiters are thrown in a lion’s den overseas, maltreated and deprived of means to seek help, end their misery and go back home to their loved ones. Between victims stranded overseas  and their callous recruiters, it is clear as daylight which party should be assisted more.
The OFW department’s first batch of officials should hit the ground running. They should not dilly dally. Since OFW deployments to the Middle East started way back in the 1970s, it should be easy to identify the best practices and discard those that didn’t work.

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