MANILA, Philippines — Some of the presidential candidates who took part in the second debate organized by the Elections Committee Sunday pledged to give more protection to undocumented foreign Filipino workers in Southeast Asia.
They were asked what they would do to ensure the safety of OFWs in member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which already have conventions and treaties on the matter.
Vice President Leni Robredo said protecting undocumented OFWs remained a big problem because they were not covered by the same protection offered to their documented counterparts.
“So we really need to have an in-depth program to encourage undocumented migrants to come to our embassies or consulates to let them know they are there so that when they have a problem we can help them,” said said Robredo in Filipino.
She also spoke about the need for an agreement on the portability of benefits, i.e. allowing OFWs to keep the benefits they would get upon retirement, as if they had not left the Philippines.
“’When they come in here. they should still be entitled [the benefits]”, Robredo said.
The Philippines would only need to coordinate with the government of the country where the OFWs worked.
She also pledged to strengthen embassies and consulates, building offices for migrant workers in each province, “to help not only OFWs, but also their families back home.”
Physician-lawyer Jose Montemayor Jr., meanwhile, stressed the need to emphasize the social and civil aspects of OFWs “especially since undocumented OFWs are more prone to abuse employers and businesses. “.
He said undocumented migrant workers should immediately report to embassies or consulates wherever they are so they can get help in times of crisis or disaster.
“In areas where they really have no place to go, communications have become easy these days,” he added.
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso also pledged to protect documented and undocumented OFWs – even those working outside ASEAN. To achieve this, it would enter into bilateral labor agreements with other countries.
Sena. Manny Pacquiao has also pledged to ensure the protection of OFWs, calling their welfare the “first pillar of foreign policy”.
“There is the Department of Migrant Workers. There is the OFW manual law that we passed,” he said.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson noted that the law establishing the Department of Migrant Workers was still very recent.
“The problem there is that its transition is until 2023, can I just suggest that we speed up the transition and speed up the implementation of the law,” he said.
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