Arroyo to ease OFW woes

MANILA, Philippines — I was invited, through Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, to meet President Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang last Feb. 6. We discussed many non-partisan concerns of the nation, like the seismic tests for oil and other natural resources in the Spratlys, jointly undertaken by the Philippines, China and Vietnam; the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) that is still awaiting Senate concurrence; and the strengthening of the Commission on Elections, started auspiciously with the appointment of Chair Jose A. R. Melo.

OFW recommendations. I took the occasion to submit to the President a position paper of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) recommending five specific measures to relieve them of their woes:

“1. To revoke immediately POEA Memo Circular No. 4 (series of 2007) in order to avert the loss of existing and potential jobs for OFWs in a shrinking and fiercely competitive global labor market;

“2. To bring about the urgent transformation of all international airports in the Philippines, especially Naia I & II, into customer-friendly, cheerful and hospitable places not only for OFWs but for all passengers;

“3. To direct a total revamp of the POEA, and if necessary, to appoint a new administrator, whose credentials equal those of Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte or Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee, in order to reinvent an efficient and effective POEA;

“4. To set in motion the audit of POEA, OWWA, and PhilHealth funds, in order to assure the OFWs that their hard-earned money is in good hands; and

“5. To prompt the Department of Foreign Affairs to raise the bar and to continuously improve its services to prospective OFWs and those who are currently deployed, especially in Nigeria, Middle East and India.”

These proposals were collated and synthesized from hundreds of e-mail by a core group of 20 led by Dr. Carmelita Cochingco-Ballesteros, Ph.D., a professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The other OFWs who helped her are Benjamin Baquilod (India), Nardito Sapon (Singapore), Freddie Base (Saudi Arabia), Erickson Alon (United States), Rosa Cagantas (United Kingdom), Ricardo Decena (Nigeria), Jimmy Cabatit (Nigeria), Flori Tuason (Sweden), Juvy Jumalon (Singapore), Manuelito Dagohoy (Saudi Arabia), Maynard Flores (Nigeria), Noslen Sonnel (Singapore), Alexander Moreno (United States), Mark Anthony Serrano (Dubai), Joey Pandy (Middle East), Herbert Sumalinog (Singapore), Jaime Enage Jr. (China), Leo Figaroa (Nigeria) and Eliseo Tenza (Dubai).

These recommendations were triggered by my three successive columns on Jan. 6, 13, and 20, denouncing the shabby treatment of OFWs. These articles can still be accessed at or my personal website,

The President was visibly touched by the OFWs’ stories narrating their airport ordeals, frayed nerves, anxiety, vexatious delays and loss of employment for some. GMA was especially peeved at POEA’s obvious lack of care and efficiency in handling their laments. She asked me to assure the OFWs that she would act expeditiously on their position paper and ease their woes.

Neri’s temporary reprieve. The Supreme Court has issued a “status quo order” barring the Senate’s arrest of Commission on Higher Education Chair Romulo Neri. However, this resolution should not be interpreted as a prejudgment of the Petition questioning the validity of the Senate’s order issued on Jan. 30 requiring Neri to continue his testimony in the ZTE National Broadband Network investigation. The Court merely wanted the parties to continue their usual work while it is deliberating on the petition.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita invoked “executive privilege” to justify Neri’s refusal to resume his testimony. In “Senate v. Ermita” (Apr. 20, 2006), the Supreme Court has ruled that disclosure is the rule and secrecy is the exception. Thus, the Executive Department has the burden of proving its claim of the privilege. It must show that the public interest to be served by the grant of secrecy is superior to the right of the Senate to obtain information.

That the oral argument on the case was scheduled early—on March 4—underscores, in my opinion, the High Tribunal’s determination to decide the controversy speedily. In view of the many bizarre twists and turns in the ZTE-NBN inquiry, especially the revelations of Joey de Venecia, the toppling of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and the damning testimony of Rodolfo Lozada Jr., Neri’s petition should indeed be expeditiously resolved.

Press freedom on the line. A good barometer of how the present Supreme Court will decide issues involving the rights of media and journalists is the petition filed by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, questioning the “order” of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) prohibiting TV and radio stations from airing the now notorious “Garci tapes.”

Recall that during the height of this electoral controversy, the NTC issued a press release warning that the license of these TV and radio stations would be cancelled should they air the tapes. The NTC alleged that the playing of the tapes or discs would violate the Anti-Wire Tapping Law. This important controversy involving press freedom and the right to information would have been forgotten had Chavez not taken up the cudgels. By their inaction, the broadcast media had apparently forgotten to challenge the NTC press release.

Having now ripened, this landmark case may be decided anytime soon. Abangan!

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