• Dear Mr. Presidential Adviser

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    TOOTS OPLE

    IT’S been more than a year since you received your appointment as presidential adviser on OFW affairs. We who are active in the sector have yet to feel your presence. I truly hope that you are in touch with our modern-day heroes throughout the world via social media. I hope that you have brought to the national leadership the myriad concerns and challenges that your “constituents” and their families are up against.

    For instance, I hope that you are in direct consultations with our OFWs regarding specific issues related to their balikbayan boxes.A lot of them are unaware that the Bureau of Customs intends to impose a flat P250 processing fee on the sender of a balikbayan box regardless of origin. Were our OFWs consulted on this? What is that flat fee for? Of course, Customs officials may belittle this amount and say, what’s $5 to an OFW? Now would be a good time for our distinguished Presidential Adviser to share your experience about the plight of our stranded workers and domestic workers in the Middle East.The point is, such an additional fee to be collected without prior consultations with the OFW sector, is an unexplained and unjustified burden on them.

    Section 5.1.2 (a) and Section 5.1.3 (a) of Customs Administrative Order (CAO) 05-2016 also requires the submission of a copy of the Philippine passport and/or the foreign passport and proof of dual citizenship of the sender as the only acceptable proof of “citizenship” of the sender. I am sure you are aware, Mr. Presidential Adviser, that some foreign employers hold on to the passports of their foreign workers though this is against workers’ rights. Wouldn’t any Philippine government-issued ID suffice? Again, was this policy shift subjected to public hearings and consultations?

    Dear Sir, the imposition of the 12A percent VAT on housing properties from P3.1-million and below has also become a bit contentious because this would increase the cost of starter homes for our OFWs. Perhaps, with your representation, we might be able to strike a compromise with the Department of Finance and members of Congress, notably the Senate, for our OFWs to be VAT-exempt when buying their first home. This is really not a good time for our OFWs. Deployment is down, jobs both here and overseas are scarce, and a number of destination-countries are in dire economic straits. The only resilient overseas job market is the neverending demand for Filipino domestic workers, and we all know how vulnerable they are.

    Today, we shall be having a tripartite consultative meeting at the Department of Labor and Employment regarding the proposed OFW ID card. We would like to be assured of the security features of this card, its basic functions, and the actual cost with a corresponding breakdown. We demand full transparency, because we don’t want the sacrifices of our OFWs to be undermined by a scheme meant to benefit shadowy characters. It is only by subjecting the production and processing of these cards to the sunlight of transparency and accountability can we all rest and sleep soundly at night. Will you be there?

    Dear Mr. Presidential Adviser, I know that you are quite close to President Duterte. He trusts you so much that you have the distinction of receiving other assignments that are delicate in nature, such as helping bring peace to Marawi City. You are a valued and distinguished person representing Mindanao and our OFWs in the highest echelons of power. Please do not see this article as an affront to your name. See it as a chance to reach out to those of us who have been in the migration advocacy work for a large part of our lives. Consider it as a humble invitation from this writer and fellow OFW advocate to shine and illuminate the public policy horizon with your generosity of ideas, and passion as well as compassion for migrant workers everywhere.

    There is not a single iota of a doubt that President Duterte is pro-OFW. That he appointed you to become his presidential adviser on OFW affairs speaks volumes about his trust and confidence in you. Please serve him well. You see, before the year ends, the different state parties, including the Philippines, will be meeting to deliberate on the Global Compact on Migration. Various stakeholders in overseas employment are gearing for nationwide consultations about this in collaboration with the International Organization on Migration (IOM). Sir, will you be involved?

    The easiest thing would be for someone like me to simply shut up and try not to point out the obvious. I can’t. From Kabayan Noli de Castro to former Vice President Jejomar Binay, the position of Presidential Adviser on OFW Affairs meant we had a place to go to, a person close to the President whom we could see and vice-versa. I may be wrong, but when OFW Jatakia Pawa was executed in Kuwait, you never uttered a word. Have you ever met her family before or after the execution?

    Sir, you know where we are. Call us, maybe?

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