DOLE’s ‘midnight’ ban on new OFWs slammed

November 14, 2017 - 2:39 PM
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A worker transacts business through the POEA's One-stop Shop for OFWs seen here in Philippine Star file photo by Michael Varcas.

MANILA – A two-week suspension of the processing of all new applications for overseas employment certificates (OECs), including those of direct hire workers, jeopardizes the rights of new migrant workers and will not necessarily stop the problem it’s supposed to address: human trafficking, which, as earlier reports said, is abetted by the illegal trade in fake OECs.

That point was raised Tuesday by the Lilac Center for Public Interest as it slammed the Department of Labor and Employment for abruptly issuing – without consulting stakeholders – the suspension order, disrupting the plans of new OFWs.

It is “tantamount to an admission that the government, specifically the DOLE and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, is utterly helpless and inutile in curbing the activities of illegal recruiters,” said Lilac in a statement sent to media outlets.

Department Order No. 185 S. of 2017 issued on November 9 by DOLE Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III suspended for 15 days the processing of all new applications for OECs “in view of persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities, including direct hires (sic); and in order to protect to public from pernicious activities of unscrupulous individuals preying on Filipinos desiring to work overseas”.

According to Nicon F. Fameronag, Lilac Center president, the order could affect thousands of OFWs who have gone through the POEA’s legal processes and upset their social equilibrium. Many OFWs, he said, are dreaming of working abroad for a better life, and the DOLE order abruptly, and without warning, cuts short this dream.

“This is a midnight policy. Besides, you don’t burn a whole house because a part of it is ridden with termites,” Fameronag, a former DOLE undersecretary for employment, said of the DOLE order.

Fameronag said it this kind of policy and the manner and timing such policy was cooked up and issued that upsets businessmen and foreign investors in the country.

“There was certainly lack of consultation on the order. The suspension decision should have been best left to the province of the Governing Board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration whose members, including the workers’ and licensed agencies’ representatives, were apparently not consulted,” Fameronag said.

He said he expected some lawyers to challenge Bello’s order before the courts “because its basis is flimsy at best.”

Order affects 75,000

At a press briefing on Friday, Labor Secretary Bello III said, “We are taking this important actions in view of persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities, including direct hires, to protect the public.”

About 75,000 applications will be affected by the suspension order.

DOLE’s Order 185 imposes the suspension from November 13 till December 1, 2017. It will be enforced by the POEA among land-based recruitment agencies.

DOLE clarified that the order does not cover Filipinos who work for international organizations, diplomatic corps, royal families, and sea-based agencies.

OFWs currently in the Philippines for vacation or “balik-manggagawa” are also not covered, provided they have a job to return to abroad.

A reshuffling of POEA employees will be conducted as part of the Labor Department’s internal cleansing, DOLE said last week.

Fameronag said Tuesday that if the DOLE is so concerned about illegal recruitment activities, it should empower and enable more the POEA’s anti-illegal recruitment branch (AIRB) by assigning it more personnel and money to expand its anti-illegal recruitment campaign.

The Lilac Center also doubted that the DOLE can get to the root cause of illegal recruitment in only 15 days—the life span of D.O. 185.

“Illegal recruitment is the unwanted husband of the government’s overseas employment policy. It has been there since and we wonder what Sec. Bello’s investigating team can unlock and undo in half a month,” Fameronag said.

The order drew comments from other stakeholders. Lito B. Soriano, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI), one of the largest associations of licensed recruitment agencies in the country, appealed to Bello to withdraw the order.

“I urge the DOLE to hold immediate consultation on illegal recruitment and join hands with the private sector to campaign together against the menace,” Soriano said.