More OFW gripes

MANILA, Philippines–MY COLUMN LAST SUNDAY ON THE “SHABBY treatment of OFWs” touched raw nerves. I was deluged with e-mail. From Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, India, Maldives, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the USA and everywhere, OFWs poured out kilometric gripes against the POEA, immigration, airlines, airports, embassies and consulates. Here are a few edited excerpts:

From Benjamin Baquilod (India): “The POEA hassles consume about four hours. At an average of 3,000 OFWs queuing daily, this means a loss of 12,000 hours. Since OFWs earn at least P30 per hour, the time wasted translates to at least P360,000 per day. Aggravating the loss is the anxiety suffered by OFWs waiting at the ‘extremely humid environment at POEA.’ POEA-issued electronic ID cards that cost $25 each are totally useless because POEA has no facilities to process them.

“When I left Manila on Jan. 3, 2008, I noted that of the 20 immigration counters, only 10 were manned. That is why it took 45 minutes for me to get through. Also, there was only one desk processing terminal fee exemptions. All in all, I was nearly late for my flight because it took me more than three hours to go through airport formalities. I have been an OFW for 25 years in Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and India but ‘nothing compares to the Philippines in inefficiency when it comes to basic services for OFWs.’”

From Dr. Carmelita Ballesteros (Singapore): “Happy Sunday! Thank you very much for writing about your daughter’s experience. I had the same experience last Nov. 30, a Friday and a Philippine holiday. “My present employer, Nanyang Technological University, offered me a two-year teaching job effective Dec. 3, 2007. Unlike your daughter, I did not register at the POEA because, as a direct hire, I thought I didn’t have to.

“While checking in, a masculine woman at one of the immigration counters told me to get a clearance from the POEA counter in the airport. The supremely arrogant creature at the POEA told me to go to the POEA (main) office (at Edsa) on Monday, Dec. 3. I said I was supposed to fly to Singapore on that day. She said condescendingly, ‘Well, rebook your flight.’ I wanted to scream and weep.”

From Ninfa Bito (USA): “I got my job at an investment bank after graduation. Like your daughter, my employer and I handled all the paperwork for my H1B visa. What puzzles me is why Filipinos who have obtained employment directly from legitimate foreign companies, and not via any employment agency or the POEA, are subjected to POEA requirements. There are many others like me—analysts, VPs, managing directors in top-tier industries—who are not aware of and are victimized by unwanted POEA red tapes.”

From Gemmarie Tibayan Venkataramani (Syria): “In one incident, a woman from the northern province of Cagayan Valley, after having been made to go back and forth between the POEA office and the immigration counter, missed her flight and started begging the airline staffers, the people at the POEA and at the information counter to help her get to the next flight since she had a connection flight that she did not want to miss. No one bothered to give her a second look; they all turned their backs on her, leaving the poor woman weeping worried that she might have lost the opportunity to provide her family a better life.”

From Alex Talana (Saudi Arabia): “The OWWA fee is paid once every two years or at every contract renewal. I had a two-year contract but the POEA computer showed that it was for one year only; ergo, I had to pay again since my contract had expired. I explained to the POEA staff at the counter that they had the wrong info. But she dismissed me and told me to complain to the recruitment agency. ‘Isn’t POEA the government office that is supposed to protect me from the malpractices of recruiters’ But here I am being told to bring my complaint to the recruitment agency!’”

From Rene Cruzada (Maldives): “As soon as airport officials saw my work visa as a telecommunications consultant, they asked for my POEA documents, which I did not have because I did not go through POEA. They confiscated my passport and plane tickets. But what I resented the most was the term they used, ‘nahuli,’ as if I was some villain. Worse, I missed my flight and lost the employment. Luckily, a new job opened. After undergoing one week of red tape at POEA, I was finally able to fly to the Maldives.”

POEA Administrator Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz sent an e-mail apologizing for the “reported shabby treatment” of Tet who, she conceded, should have been accorded “proper consideration” since the POEA offices were closed during the holidays. May I add that from 1999 to 2006, Tet dutifully secured the clearances, without any intervention from me or anyone else.

Baldoz explained that the POEA processes were intended “to monitor” OFWs so they could be assisted during “crises or emergency situations.” She said that OFWs should get Overseas Employment Certificates (OEC) from our embassies and consulates prior their visit here, or from POEA offices after they arrive. “Only in extreme cases” are POEA counters at the airports “authorized to issue one-day exit clearances.”

Finally, she added that POEA would soon provide a free OFW ID card “to replace the paper OEC.” (AVP: Other than this miserable card, surely, POEA must urgently reinvent itself, its processes and its personnel to be more caring and efficient. For the sake of poor, ordinary OFWs, I will monitor how the POEA responds to their gripes and serves them fittingly as heroes.)

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