MANILA — Partido Lakas ng Masa vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello pushed for stringent recruitment regulations for OFWs, stating that only countries with established and strong laws protecting migrant workers should be allowed to recruit them in an online forum hosted by the Transnational Migrant Platform-Europe (TMP-E) last April 16

“We will ban governments where human rights and sexual abuse of OFWs are rampant – ban them from recruiting in the Philippines.

This will include Saudi Arabia,” Bello said.

Bello, who is running under the ticket of presidential aspirant Leody De Guzman, said their proposed programs include mandating foreign countries to set a floor of $800-per-month salary for household service workers. This is part of the fight for a decent and livable wage for workers.

In a report by ABS-CBN News, Bello noted that they will also “ensure strict implementation of and guidance over the newly established Department of Migrant Workers to impose a crackdown on the rampant human rights and sexual abuse against OFWs.”

“We would ensure that the DMW (Department of Migrant Workers) has greatly expanded facilities for distressed workers,” Bello said.

Presidential candidates’ plans for OFWs

During the second debate organized by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) last April 3, the presidential candidates highlighted the significance of providing support for OFWs while they work overseas until their retirement.

In a report by Rappler, doctor-lawyer Jose Montemayor wants OFWs to easily report their troubles whether they are documented or not, citing the existing agreements the country has with other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia.

“Dapat lang ’yung mga undocumented workers, dapat mai-report kaagad ’yan. Kahit san man sila, lalong lalo na ’pag may disaster, may crisis, mayroong pahirap na ginagawa ng kanilang employers, dapat mai-report sa mga embassies natin,” Montemayor said.

Vice-president Leni Robredo agreed with Montemayor’s proposal to bolster the capacities of Philippine embassies and consulates, mentioning her proposal to install a migrant workers office in every province so that OFWs’ families left in the Philippines would be able to seek support as well.

Robredo reiterated the need for better programs despite the several conventions the Philippines has already entered into on the protection of migrant workers, lamenting “a significant number of OFWs who are undocumented and may not be covered by the same protections offered to documented workers.”

“Kailangan talaga magkaroon tayo ng masusing programa para ma-incentivize ’yung mga undocumented na mag-appear sa ating mga embassies o sa ating mga consulates na ipaalam na nando’n sila para kung magkaroon sila ng problema ay natutulungan natin sila,” Robredo said.

The Vice-president also brought up the need to forge “portability” of social benefits through bilateral talks for OFWs who are looking to retire but could not due to the lack of benefits their employment offers.

“Social welfare and health benefits (should be there) so that even if (OFWs) come home, they would still be entitled to it, as discussed by the two governments,” Robredo said.

“But in the long run, our most important target should be to ensure that our countrymen only migrate out of choice and not out of necessity,” she added.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, on the other hand, wants the Philippines to focus on establishing a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia, a top destination for OFWs, to ensure the protection of both documented and undocumented workers.

Moreno also wants the government to help with OFWs’ reintegration once they return home by providing them opportunities to do business or farming facilitated by the trade and agriculture departments.

In 2013, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia signed a domestic worker recruitment agreement but abuses still persisted.

Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson mentioned the newly-approved Department of Migrant Workers set to begin operations by 2023.

“We must accelerate the transition and our Philippine Overseas Labor Offices must be proactive. We must accelerate the implementation of the law so we can help OFWs,” Lacson said.

The report noted that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will be renamed DMW and it will merge and transfer all relevant offices of other agencies in a bid to make it easier for migrant workers to get their documents and seek help from the government.