LABOR Secretary Silvestre Bello III is fast emerging as one of the shining stars of the Duterte administration.
Despite multiple roles as peace negotiator, labor secretary, and champion of OFW rights, the man is always prepared to engage with tripartite partners and other stakeholders, including the media, on the peace advocacy and labor policies of President Duterte. That he has the President’s trust and confidence is clear to everyone in the labor and employment sector.
Nevertheless, I am sure that even the hardworking labor secretary will heave a sigh of relief once thePhilippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has a new administrator. The position of POEA administrator has been vacant since October last year when POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac was appointed OWWA Administrator.
The agency’s day-to-day affairs is now the responsibility of deputy administrator AristodesRuaro, an approachable, diligent, and sincere civil servant who has made it a point to clear his desk of papers before going home each day. I am glad that Ruaro is doing well in his position, and has gained the respect of the POEA staff.
Why is it critically important for the POEA to have a new administrator? Because the longer that seat is vacant, the more likely fixers will try to take advantage of the void. This would be a travesty considering that the POEA is ISO-certified and has managed to build a reservoir of goodwill among its counterparts in the world.
The POEA needs an administrator who is fair, honest, knowledgeable, in both legal and administrative matters, able to follow and appreciate foreign affairs, and has a genuine love for our workers.
Every overseas Filipino worker must pass through the POEA for the vetting, approval and processing of his or her job contract and overseas employment certificate (OEC). The OEC is actually just a receipt but has become the most sought-after proof of one’s legitimacy as an OFW. Until the OFW ID card envisioned by the Department of Labor and Employment becomes a reality, the OEC will remain one of the requirements that our immigration officers would be asking for from Filipinos bound for abroad as overseas workers. The new POEA chief can look at viable alternatives to the OEC that has become a perennial complaint of many OFWs.
Every licensed recruitment agency must comply with the rules and regulations of the POEA otherwise it risks being placed under preventive suspension or worse, having its accreditation cancelled.
A new POEA chief can work closely with the land-based recruitment industry in promoting mutual cooperation and increased levels of compliance while making sure that agencies that ought to be cancelled, are not resurrected.
Every foreign employer must have its employment contract verified by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and approved by POEA prior to obtaining workers from the Philippines.
Every government or state that wishes to hire Filipino workers under a government-to-government arrangement must negotiate such an agreement through the POEA.
The POEA is also home to the Overseas Land-based Tripartite Consultative Council (OLTCC) whose members come from the recruitment industry, civil society organizations and government. The OLTCC holds quarterly meetings with the POEA as its secretariat to serve as a sounding board and institutional mechanism to promote understanding and cooperation among stakeholders.
It is also the POEA that implements the order to suspend the deployment of Filipino workers to conflict zones, pandemic areas, or calamity-stricken countries based on the recommendations of the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as the Department of Health.
Under Republic Act No. 10022, the POEA also has the power to identifyand “de-list” countries found to have inadequate laws, policies or programs to protect our modern-day heroes, in close coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Serving as the administrator of the POEA is not for the weak of heart, nor for those with shallow principles. It is for one who believes – firmly and unequivocally – that the rights and dignity of our overseas workers are sacred and must be respected at all times.
OFW Gregg Esquivel who is based in Bahrain said that the incoming POEA head must understand the labor and migration policies of other countries, and manage to use his or her position to negotiate better terms and more protection for our overseas workers. Fairness and transparency must also prevail, especially in the adjudication of cases, and implementation of rules and regulations.
Our seafarers also deserve a proactive POEA administrator. The fluctuation in the global prices of oil, piracy in the high seas, and rising competition among international seafarers, trafficking of fishermen, are just among some of the external factors that the new POEA chief must be aware of.
We do need a new POEA administrator, but it should be someone who cares, not just for the institution, but also for the thousands of prospective OFWs that enter its doors each day, with dreams that make them clutch their passports like one would a book of prayers. Those with vested interests need not apply.