MORE women are leaving the country to work abroad as domestic workers, and this trend is not about to stop. Based on the 2016 survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, there were 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers at any given time during April to September 2016 all over the world. Out of that number, more than half were female, from 25 to 39 years old.
This means that we had approximately a million Filipino women shaping their destiny as expatriates last year, dealing with migration-related issues such as discrimination, unequal pay and contract substitution, higher risk of sexual harassment and in the case of our domestic workers, physical, mental and emotional abuse. Out of that sheer number, a great majority of our women migrant workers were able to make successfully through their contracts. Our hearts and love go out to the less than 10 percent of our domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries in the Middle East, whose only ticket to survival is to run away from vulgar and abusive employers.
We have no right to judge any Filipino woman for choosing to work abroad whether as an engineer or as a domestic worker. They will go where the jobs are, and frankly, the salaries are indeed higher on the other side of the global fence. A domestic worker in Metro Manila earns P4,000 a month on the average while her sister or cousin in Saudi Arabia earns the equivalent of P16,000. A Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong is capable of earning at least P26,000 a month, much more than a contractual employee would be making in any of our high-end malls.
However, the social costs of migration cannot be denied. Distance over time leads to broken marriages with the children often caught in the crossfire. At times, the changes in lifestyles brought about by monthly dollar remittances require contract renewals ad hominem. I have personally handled cases where the distressed OFWs were treated like slaves, scarring them for life. From a moral perspective, we, as a society, must ask ourselves: Until when must we keep sending more women to work abroad as domestic workers? Our neighbor, Indonesia, has made up its mind about this moral quandary. As a matter of public policy, they no longer deploy Indonesian domestic workers to the Middle East.
Recently, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chose a different direction. For the very first time in contemporary Philippine migration history, we are opening the doors to more foreign recruitment agencies and foreign employers obtaining accreditation from the POEA to recruit Filipino domestic workers.
POEA Governing Board Resolution No. 03 Series of 2017 (http://www.poea.gov.ph/gbr/2017/GBR-03-2017.pdf) amends the revised POEA rules on the recruitment of land-based OFWs to allow a foreign placement agency to be accredited with four local recruitment agencies while a foreign employer may be accredited up to a maximum of five licensed Philippine recruitment agencies.
When you accredit more foreign employers and foreign agencies to recruit workers, this means you are encouraging the deployment of more domestic workers as part of our labor policy. When you peg the accreditation process to the number of new recruits for domestic work abroad, then you may be lowering the cost of recruitment overseas while increasing the potential for abuse of our workers.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd is certainly not the type who would willfully put our workers in harm’s way. He has shown remarkable drive in pushing for faster action on repatriation cases and a clearer roadmap towards more relevant reintegration programs. Undoubtedly, the new resolution will also lead to job creation, especially for women in Muslim Mindanao. I know that we differ on certain policy issues but such professional differences need not get in the way of mutual respect and friendship.
Thus, we appeal to Bello to revisit this new resolution in his capacity as the chairman of the POEA governing board. There may have been diplomatic reasons behind this new policy, something that would not be easy to publicly disclose. Nevertheless, the deployment of more OFWs as domestic workers is also a matter of national conscience, especially when we continue to see a steady stream of distressed OFWs seeking refuge in embassy shelters across the Gulf region.
ACTS OFW party-list Rep. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III recalled that when President Duterte visited Qatar, around 87 women staying at Bahay-Kalinga in Doha were able to come home, emptying the beds of the embassy shelter. To his surprise, he found more than 90 of our domestic workers staying in the shelter during his visit to Doha last week; and the new POEA board resolution is not even operational yet.
Let us not make those who profit from the feminization of migration shape our labor policies and by extension, the destiny of our country. These foreign agencies and employers are only after profit and convenience. We have the national soul, and the welfare of our workers, to think about.