Thursday, March 28, 2024

6 Ways The Aquino Administration Failed the OFWs

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The administration under President Benigno Aquino III is on its stretch run as it winds down mid-next year as new leadership is ushered in. Economically, the country has made waves and received recognition of sustaining its run despite faltering of world’s major economies of late.

To overseas Filipino workers, however, the administration has become of less help despite the continuous flow of money remittance they send home, creating a lifeline to an otherwise ailing economy. It is estimated that 10% of the country’s GDP come from inbound remittance sent by some 10 million Filipinos abroad.

Yet, the oft-used “modern-day heroes” trumpeted by labor officials and politicians during graduation rites, awarding ceremonies and keynote speeches have become so cliche that it’s already a joke nobody’s willing to laugh at. That’s because OFWs are accorded with treatment heroes deserve to receive.

  1. Offloading at NAIA: A problem that has existed even before the current administration accepted its role, offloading of international passengers was aimed at preventing the acts of human smuggling. If a passenger cannot provide proper documentation or answer a simple question reasonably, he or she becomes subject to offloading. But unverified reports also show crass immigration officers harassing vulnerable passengers, asking for sum of money in return for passage through the counter and airport officials allegedly involved in escorting passengers, for a fee, to their boarding gates, bypassing the usual security and administrative checks.
  2. Government Inefficiency: On their way to work abroad, Filipinos have to deal with a number of hurdles, pay a number of fees and spend significant amount of time to get things done.For example, Filipino domestic helpers with experience abroad are required to undergo training even if they are at least familiar with the job description should they decide to return to work overseas. Illegal recruiters plying the trade in Manila’s Malate district continue to operate despite complaints of non-issuance of receipts, overcharging fees and partnering with loan sharks that charge very high interest rates without much intervention from government enforcers.When OFWs send relief goods to help fellowmen affected by disasters, they unite to raise funds and relief goods. But receiving agencies in the Philippines are slow and inefficient, unable to account for donations of many countries, including those where many Filipinos are working.

    Returning OFWs are helpless against overcharging taxi drivers and cannot find decent mass transport option upon arrival at major Philippine airports.

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    In fairness, this is a problem that has been plaguing the OFWs for years, but the Aquino administration failed to make headway in cutting government bureaucracy and reduce corruption, which is seen as working in tandem with inefficiency.

  3. Balikbayan Box: To cover for sagging government revenues and neglect over massive smuggling activities involving rice, luxury cars and even unwanted trash from Canada, the Aquino government approved the idea of manually inspecting balikbayan boxes, subjecting these boxes to tax and charging higher rates for container shipment that effectively raises the cost to send these beloved BBs back home.Balikbayan boxes often arrive to recipients months after they leave the hands of loving relatives abroad, partly because of clogged ports and inefficient system that epitomize how challenging operating a business in the Philippines can be.
  4. OEC: Obtaining the overseas employment certificate (OEC) is a microcosm of how lives of OFWs evolve. While the document — a proof that a traveler passing through Philippine airports is a legitimate overseas Filipino worker and therefore eligible of so-called privileges like terminal fee (more on this at #5) and travel tax the Philippines imposes on everyone else — obtaining it can be a hassle.Related: Why OEC should be abolishedLong queues at embassies and consulates, several documentary requirements and its overall lack of practicality can also be said of other services the government is offering to OFWs like limited scholarship grants available for family members and typically lengthy repatriation procedures in terms of emergency. Cost of OEC isn’t much but it can be misleading; you invest in time and energy for a document that could otherwise be replaced with a legitimate employment contract.
  5. Terminal Fee: Upon presentation of your OEC, you are supposed to be exempt from paying additional fees at Philippine airports on your international outbound flights such as terminal fee, travel tax and supposedly offered a special lane for faster processing on Immigration counters. But as it turned out, terminal fees are now integrated into air tickets for flights that depart the Philippines. Now, OFWs end up paying extra fees even if the law mandates they should not. As a result, the airport is paying extra manpower to issue refunds to affected travelers. Of course, filing for refunds also involve a number of steps such as queuing, providing documentary proofs and spending extra time to recover the money you own and shouldn’t have been taken away from you in the first place.
  6. OFW Families: The service — or lack thereof — of the Aquino administration also impact the families of OFWs abroad. Delayed arrival or pilfered balikbayan boxes are common sources of anger. Slow Internet connection deprive quality communication time between OFWs and families. Poor infrastructure such as bad MRT service, crowded airports that cause delayed flights, dilapidated rural rads and mediocre quality of enforcement of maritime laws that make sea travel risky are valid reasons for OFWs to feel anxious about loved ones in the Philippines.

It is not yet too late. As of this writing, the Aquino administration can still redeem itself from its lower than expected quality of service and leave a legacy of a nation that truly honors its hardworking citizens employed as global workers.

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