Monday, September 2, 2013

Initial Recommendations of Civil Society and OFW Advocates to the Senate Blue Ribbon and Labor committees

Initial Recommendations of Civil Society and OFW Advocates to the Senate Blue Ribbon and Labor committees, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment, from civil society groups and individual OFW advocates regarding complaints versus overseas personnel:


Prior to the convening of a series of hearings in the Senate on the alleged sex-for-flight complaints against certain labor officials, a group of OFW advocates belonging to various organizations sought civil society’s involvement in the investigative panel. This suggestion was politely declined by the DFA, while the DoLE through the Office of the Secretary failed to even acknowledge our letter.

Despite this initial setback, our collective call for reforms in the delivery of onsite protective and welfare services to our OFWs continues. Our group is composed of the following:

Philippine Migrant Rights Watch (PMRW) led by Ms. Carmelita Nuqui
Blas F. Ople Policy Center led by Ms. Susan V. Ople
Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group (FMWG) led by Mr. Jun Aguilar
Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA) led by Mr. Kenji Solis
LBS Recruitment Solutions (LBS) led by Mr. Lito Soriano
KAMPI and Kabalikat ng OFWs led by Mr. Luther Calderon

Our recommendations are the following:

1.     To Prevent Ticket Anomalies:
o   Proper orientation of OFWs particularly to those in Bahay Kalinga shelters re government procedures in the availment of air tickets for distressed OFWs;
o   All departing OFWs must have a full briefing on the coverage of their mandatory insurance policies as paid for by the recruitment agencies;
o   The POEA and Insurance Commission must ensure that all departing OFWs have a copy of their insurance policy as paid for by their recruitment agency and that such policy should be in the OFW’s name; there should be a dedicated hotline that these workers can call in case such information/copy of policy was not given;
2.     For the Empowerment of OFWs especially Household Workers:
o   Stiffer penalties for PDOS providers and recruitment agencies that encourage and even facilitate non-appearance of departing OFWs, by issuing bogus certificates of attendance.
o   All personnel to be assigned overseas particularly in countries with a high concentration of Filipino domestic workers must undergo gender sensitivity classes, learn basic counseling skills, and victims’ assistance training geared specifically towards promoting the rights and welfare of abused women particularly those engaged in domestic work and/or victims of human trafficking;
o   All rape and sexual harassment cases involving domestic workers must be immediately reported by the POLO to the Head of Post and Assistance-to-Nationals Unit and vice-versa, with regular case conferences to be convened until such cases are deemed resolved; moreso if such cases involve an embassy staff regardless of which agency/department he or she came from.
o   That the entire Section 40 covering Repatriation Procedures as contained in Administrative Order No. 168 Series of 2013 on the Manual of Operations, Polices and Guidelines for the POLO be included in the PDOS and all other related seminars for OFWs conducted by DOLE and its attached agencies.
o   That a special PDOS for overseas personnel including ambassadors due for posting in the Middle East and other countries with a high number of welfare cases be developed and conducted to include topics about sexual harassment, gender sensitivity, and other women’s concerns.
3.     To Promote Accountability and Transparency at Posts:
o   Amend Administrative Order No. 168 Series of 2013 on the Manual of Operations, Policies and Guidelines for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to reflect the following:
a.       Under Section 5 entitled “One Country Team Approach”, we recommend that the last paragraph be amended to read: “In cases involving criminal and/or police matters and procedures, the POLO shall render assistance at the initial contact with the concerned worker but it shall immediately endorse such cases to the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) section of the Philippine Embassy/Consulate.
b.      That POLOs must include in their monthly report on MWOFRC any complaints emanating from its wards against any embassy personnel and actions taken by the POLOs to report such complaints to the head of post;
o   That the DFA, DoLE and DSWD come up with a joint mechanism onsite and here at home to promote better coordination in handling sensitive cases involving trafficked women, abused domestic workers, and sexual harassment complaints involving embassy personnel; such mechanisms could include regular case conferences, information sharing, and well-coordinated reintegration services for said victims.
o   That all local hires be carefully screened and evaluated on the basis of performance at work and behavior towards overseas Filipino workers; that a common criteria for hiring be adopted by all agencies concerned, alongside a unified compensation package as set by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
o   Inter-agency accounting and reporting of tickets bought, sent, and used as part of repatriation efforts with a unified report to be submitted as part of the requirements of the oversight congressional committees;
o    The DFA and DOLE to jointly come up with Performance Standards, which may include benchmarks on time periods required to resolve cases or complaints or come up with appropriate actions.

o    Institute a feedback and exit evaluation mechanism in government shelters in order to solicit and document OFWs' experience in the shelters and their recommendations for improvements

4.     Reforms Through Legislative-Executive Actions:
o   Increase the number of personnel in so-called “hardship posts” to narrow the gap between embassy staff and clientele particularly in the Middle East; also, review where the funds saved due to the closure of 10 foreign posts went considering the lack of dramatic increase in the number of personnel serving our OFWs in the Middle East.
o   Ensure availability of funds in the 2014 GAA to operationalize the provisions of the law on the assignment of pyshcologists, social workers, and a Shari’a or human rights lawyer in highly problematic countries as categorized by the DFA and DOLE and where there is a high concentration of Filipino migrant workers;
o   Ensure that all ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel to be nominated for confirmation by the Commission on Appointments have undergone a prescribed gender sensitivity course and is duly informed about the anti-sexual harassment act, expanded trafficking in persons law as well as other pertinent laws involving women’s rights;
o   For the executive to have a clearer definition of the One Country Team Approach in operational terms particularly in relation to the handling of cases involving rape and human trafficking victims as well as those abused/maltreated/exploited/harassed by embassy personnel.
o   For the passage of a law or amendment of existing ones specifically on victims’ assistance delineating the roles of every agency/department from deployment to onsite services and finally on reintegration with corresponding budget allocations and staff training components;
o   For amendments to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act to include acts committed by foreign service personnel including local hires against Filipino overseas workers; and,
o   For all agencies with staff overseas to agree on a Code of Ethics in relation to the delivery of services to overseas Filipino workers particularly those who have sought refuge in Philippine embassies and consulates around the world.
o   For the oversight legislative labor committee to review the operations of the POLO especially in light with the additional powers to be given to it under the revised rules of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

We also call on the Secretaries of the DFA and DOLE to harness the experience and desire of civil society groups and OFW advocates to contribute and encourage reforms in onsite delivery of services through dialogue and the crafting of a sweeping reform agenda for the benefit of our modern-day heroes.

Carmelita Nuqui, PMRW                   Susan Ople, Blas F. Ople Center

Luther Calderon, KAMPI                  Jun Aguilar, FMWG

Kenji Solis, PEBA                               Lito Soriano, LBS Recruitment Solutions   

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