OUR overseas Filipino workers have served as the backbone of the Philippine economy since the mid-1970s. The World Bank has estimated that the yearend total of remittance flows for the Philippines for the year 2016 will reach $29.1 billion, the third biggest after India’s $65.5 billion and China’s $65.2 billion.
The spending power of OFW families have held up its fair share of our economic sky, considering that most tuition fees, travel expenses, books, food, utilities, real estate, mobile phone apps, units and loads are paid for by our migrant workers. Yet, it is only now that they truly feel appreciated, and loved by no less than the commander in chief of our great Republic.
Based on my discussions with our OFWs in Hong Kong and especially those based in the Middle East, they appreciate that the scourge of “tanim bala” (bullet-planting) has ended and their luggage no longer require the special plastic wrapping services at the airport. Second, the “balikbayan” boxes they will be bringing home will be tax-free and hassle-free based on an agreement reached between the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs. Third, the establishment of One-Stop OFW Centers demonstrates the respect and concern of the current administration for our OFWs. Fourth, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) has announced that OFWs will no longer have to line up for their terminal fee refunds since a new system shall be in place by March 2017. Fifth, OFWs who are traveling to the Philippines for a brief visit but will be returning to the same employers no longer need to queue at the POEA to obtain overseas employment certificates, or OECs, after registering once online.
Such energy and zeal to serve our OFWs have found its way into the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Hong Kong headed by labor attache Jalilo de la Torre.
When an OFW recently fell to her death from the 49th floor of her employer’s high-rise condominium, the POLO invited the officials of the recruitment association of Hong Kong to inform them about the plans of the Philippine government to include a provision in the contract disallowing the cleaning of windows in high-rise buildings by any Filipino domestic worker. Several recruitment agency owners balked at this announcement, while Hong Kong employers proposed that greater emphasis on safety education be given instead.
But De la Torre stood his ground. The Hong Kong labor ministry requested for time to consult with stakeholders. Meanwhile, the Indonesian labor attaché in Hong Kong decided to join forces with his Philippine counterpart. Indonesia and the Philippines formed a united front against the hazardous work of cleaning windows in high-rise buildings, making it a human rights issue.
The Hong Kong government relented and thus, beginning January 2017, all job contracts involving foreign domestic workers will prohibit window cleaning unless the windows have protective grills. Sadly, what was big news in Hong Kong hardly caused a ripple here in our own country. President Rodrigo Duterte deserves to know about the good work done by our man in Hong Kong, a humble guy and fellow Visayan named Jalilo de la Torre. May his tribe increase!
Tomorrow, the Ople Center will gather more than 500 OFW families for a Christmas party. They will be making Christmas cards that will be specially dedicated to President Duterte, to encourage him to keep moving forward and lifting the quality of services to all our workers.
We will also be bestowing the 2017 Pusong OFW Awards to: Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, “Kabayan” Noli de Castro, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, civil society leaders Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Group and Luther Calderon of the Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc. These leaders have always been active partners in protecting migrant workers’ rights.
The 5th Happy OFW Christmas Party will be held at the Ramon Magsaysay Auditorium of the SSS Building in Quezon City. Our main sponsor, PLDT Global Corp., will be making a presentation on how technology can ease the lives of our OFWs. So many companies benefit from our workers’ remittance but very few of them give back by creating products and services that would make it easier for our OFWs and their families to save for the proverbial rainy day. So thank you, PLDT Global, for joining the Ople Center in this endeavor!
Paramount Life & General Insurance Corp. and I-Remit, Inc. have been equally supportive of the Ople Center and we hope to rely on them for future projects as well. This corner thanks the Social Security System for lending us their venue. I am also proud to say that The Manila Times is our media partner for this yuletide celebration, which we have lovingly prepared for our OFWs.
Why do we continue to do the things we do for our OFWs? Because they often do so many things for their own families that they neglect their own needs. I am truly glad that we have a President who is looking out for them.