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OFWs oppose new order on mandatory Pag-IBIG membership

Overseas Filipinos opposed the new resolution making membership to the government’s housing fund mandatory, calling the measure “extortion”.

Migrante International (MI) said overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have always been the target of government money-making schemes and the new order by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) is another.

In a joint resolution this month, the two government agencies said all OFWs must be Pag-IBIG members in order to secure overseas employment certificates (OEC), a prerequisite to applying for jobs abroad.

The government said the new measure is meant to ensure that OFWs will receive uninterrupted benefits from Pag-IBIG, such as loan packages and other programs.

The order is an addition to the earlier requisite for OFWs to secure exit clearance from the POEA as well as POEA and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration memberships, travel insurance, Social Security System and PhilHealth memberships before being allowed to fly abroad.

MI also revealed that the government has imposed additional medical, training and other processing requirements during the COVID pandemic.

MI said the order, issued only a month away from the May 2022 national and local elections, is another desperate device by the Rodrigo Duterte government to milk more funds from the OFWs.

“This is just another mechanism of the Labor Export Program (LEP). The mandatory Pag-IBIG membership only aggravates the current critical condition of Filipinos who are forced to seek overseas employment in order for their families to survive the severe economic crisis brought about by the endless hike in oil price and basic commodities,” MI said.

Jhoanna Concepcion, MI chairperson, said that without an OEC, OFWs are prevented from leaving the country even if they are already in possession of all the necessary working and travel requirements set by their respective host countries.

“Our own government controls our movement. Now, the government is using the OEC to extract money from our hard-working OFWs. Is this the kind of treatment our OFWs deserved?” Concepcion asked.

MI said it plans on mobilizing its chapters in three major global regions and two major countries in North America to protest against this recent mandatory fee and at the same time will revive its call for the abolition of the OEC.

“We also challenge our presidentiables to speak against this new mandatory fee and, if they are elected, we hope they will provide us with relief and not add more burden to our sufferings,” she said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

MIGRANTE INT’L: Unpaid Saudi OFWs may claim P10k aid from OWWA

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with pending salary claims in Saudi Arabia may now apply for financial assistance with the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), Migrante International (MI) announced.

While the thousands of affected OFWs wait for the result of their claim to unpaid salaries and benefits, MI said OWWA finally decided on giving a financial aid package of P10,000 per worker.

“This is a victory for our Saudi OFWs who took collective action to push for financial assistance from DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and OWWA while their labor claims are pending in Saudi Arabia,” the group said.

OWWA’s Financial Relief Assistance Program announcement. (https://frap.owwa.gov.ph/?fbclid=IwAR2mfthznaMH7e3DFKDQ0uA6bXnhBrsEHQDn55txRj0gSfaA2l8KEbLIQsU)

About 9,000 OFWs were forced to return to the Philippines in 2016 after they stopped receiving remuneration from so-called Arab mega recruitment agencies responsible for their deployment to the kingdom.

Last October, labor secretary Silvestre Bello III said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is expected to pay P4.6 billion in unpaid salaries to the OFWs in exchange for the lifting of the Philippine government deployment ban.

MI however pressed the Philippine government to “urgently and proactively” address the non-payment of salaries of the affected OFWs.

“DOLE must also ensure that it provides financial aid to those currently stranded in Saudi Arabia and were likewise affected by the Saudi Crisis because based on the requirements, they are excluded from this financial aid program,” MI added.

The migrants group also said the Philippine government must repatriate OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia who now wish to come home. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bello suspends misbehaving welfare officer

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai, UAE: A welfare officer at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai was suspended after allegedly insulting and cursing over the phone a Filipina who asked explanation where the food aid given by POLO came from.

In a directive issued on Friday, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has ordered the immediate suspension of Danilo Flores, a welfare officer at POLO-Dubai.

The labour chief also ordered a swift investigation to determine Flores’ culpability for alleged misbehavior in dealing with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The investigation followed an incident that transpired on April 16 between Joy Parafina, a Dubai resident, and Flores.

Parafina recounted the incident on a Facebook post that went viral.

Angry OFW Joy Parafina in her Facebook video narrating her spat with Welfare Officer Danilo Flores.

In the video, an angry and distressed Parafina alleged that Flores called her names after she asked whether there was a receipt for the food packs being distributed.

Parafina said she is aware that the Philippine government has earmarked a $200 (Dh730) cash aid to Filipino expats affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

She inquired if the food pack, containing two bags of rice and several canned goods, was part of the relief package.

She first asked a staff at a local grocery where the food packs were distributed but the staff was not knowledgeable of the arrangement and advised Parafina to contact officers from POLO-Dubai.

This led Parafina to contact Flores.

Parafina said she didn’t want to claim the food pack as there was no receipt and explanation where the goods came from.

Parafina alleged Flores blew his top and called her ungrateful.

Flores also used expletives, Parafina said in her FB Live video.

Flores suspended

Bello said Flores is suspended from performing his duties as Welfare Officer pending investigation of the incident.

The labor secretary also assured the public of DOLE’s continuing welfare and assistance programs for OFWs.

According to its website, POLO serves as the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) overseas operating arm in the implementation of the Philippine labor policies and programs for the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare and interests of Filipinos working abroad. #

(This report first appeared on Gulf News.)

Coronavirus effect: Hundreds of Filipinos in the UAE want to go back home

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai: A few hundred Filipino expats are seeking to be repatriated soon, a source within the Filipino diplomatic community said Saturday, March 11.

Flights to Manila from this city, however, are still suspended, following the Philippine government’s directive on extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and budget airline, Cebu Pacific – have also extended the suspension of all flight operations between Dubai and Manila until April 30.

Moreover, the decision to suspend passenger and transit flights to and from the UAE – as a preventive measure to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) – is still in effect.

Meanwhile, around 200 seafarers have been repatriated to the Philippines on Saturday.

The repatriation of the stranded Filipino crew members, who are not UAE residents, was coordinated with UAE authorities who allowed them to disembark and take a chartered flight arranged by their employers through local manning agencies.

In an earlier Gulf News report, Marford Angeles, Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission at the Philippine Embassy, said they have been working on the repatriation of Filipino crew members stranded in various ports in the UAE.

The Filipino diplomat also clarified, as per POLO-OWWA (Philippine Overseas Labor Office – Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), “employers are responsible for their employees’ repatriation, based on their contract.”

Angeles added the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi has been closely coordinating with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs on cases of stranded Filipino nationals. “These cases are subject to compliance with both Philippine and UAE laws and regulations, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Philippines being coordinated with the Philippine Department of Health and OWWA,” he earlier told Gulf News.

Angeles also clarified the Embassy’s programme of repatriating those with visa problems and immigration offences and victims illegal recruitment is still on hold due to the suspension of exit pass processing and suspension of UAE flights.

“This programme is also subject to availability of funds. Those who need help with their exit pass processing may call +971508584968 or +971508963089, or email [email protected] for proper advice,” he added. #

(This article originally appeared on Gulf News.)

Migrant workers storm OWWA office

Migrant workers and their families led by Migrante stormed the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration office last March 16 to protest the agency’s inaction on the plight of stranded Filipinos abroad.

Migrante says that OWWA forces them to pay for so-called protection funds for Filipino workers abroad but does nothing when needed.

At the moment, hundreds of migrant workers are stranded in Saudi Arabia alone but are not being repatriated by the Aquino government.

Migrante demands that the government use their welfare funds to help stranded Filipino workers abroad.

The protesters are also demanding that assistance claims must be given to OFWs as well as an accounting of the 18 billion peso OWWA fund.