An Open Letter to Vice-President Jejomar Binay
I am glad that you are finally the Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns. Your predecessor, Vice-President Noli de Castro, did an excellent job in this position. He poured a lot of heart and soul in helping our OFWs, and often travelled to the Middle East to convey our government’s concern over the plight of distressed workers especially those on death row.
This position is a challenging one not only because of the sheer size of your constituency – around 9 million overseas Filipinos and their families back home – but also because of the tight budget deficit that makes it extremely difficult for government to spend more for repatriation and recovery programs. But spend it must, not just for protection, but most especially on the prevention of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
I have no doubt that your work as the President’s key adviser on OFW issues and concerns will draw from your own personal experience as a mayor. You would need to listen to a lot of sob stories; deal with the police and NBI to ensure that cases are resolved; and work closely with the labor and foreign affairs departments to ensure a stricter monitoring of the deployment of our workers as well as better onsite services to help those already overseas. Being an action man and a lawyer to boot, you will enjoy this position, and because the Filipino Diaspora is replete with human interest stories, publicity will hound you as the nation witnesses the unfolding of one controversial and heart wrenching case after another.
Foremost in the to-do list of this administration is the fight against human trafficking and illegal recruitment. We are now in the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department. We have been in this same category for two years now, from 2009 to 2010. Under the US anti-trafficking law, a country that has been in the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years faces an automatic downgrade unless significant efforts are shown in the fight against trafficking. At risk are $250 million in non-humanitarian assistance from the US government. More importantly, at risk are the lives of so many potential victims of human trafficking and forced labor here and abroad.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino has expressed his commitment to fight trafficking in several occasions. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz have spearheaded reforms in their respective departments against trafficking. There are encouraging signs all around us that this issue is being addressed firmly and sincerely by the present government.
Unfortunately, the deeds must match the words. It is in the very low conviction rates for trafficked and illegal recruitment cases where we fail as a nation. For several years, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking under the justice department has not received even a single peso in budgetary allocation. These two areas require drastic positive change. The Department of Budget and Managment has allotted a budget for the IACAT in the 2011 proposed General Appropriations Act. Please, Mr. Vice-President, please make sure that this budget item is not dropped for frivolous and self-serving reasons because its deletion can imperil our fight to stay out of the Tier 3 category.
I am glad that the Department of Interior and Local Governments headed by Secretary Jesse Robredo has taken up the cause of anti-trafficking and illegal recruitment as well. The Blas F. Ople Center led by yours truly and three other non-government organizations namely, the Visayan Forum Foundation, the Association of Child Caring Agencies of the Philippines and the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy signed an agreement with the DILG to render technical support and help build the capacities of local governments in the prevention of human trafficking and illegal recruitment at the barangay level.
Much work still needs to be done. I am highly concerned over the certification process now being undertaken by our embassies and consulates abroad in keeping with Section 3 of Republic Act No. 10022 or the Amendments to the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995. One wrong move could be met by an antagonistic response by an offended labor receiving country. Confusion can also be an outcome as millions of OFWs are not even aware that such a law has been passed. If there is anything that you need to study and oversee, it is the myriad implications that this new law have on overseas employment program and the OFWs themselves. This is why a dialogue regarding this new law between you and different stakeholders is quite urgent.
Mr. Vice-President, you do have your work cut out for you. With hundreds of Filipinos under detention and the list of drug mules on death row growing longer by the month, you literally hold the key to saving the lives of many OFWs. As an OFW advocate, I wish you all the best. Please serve as an effective bridge between our OFWs and their families and the President of this beloved Republic. Our modern-day heroes expect nothing less. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople. Visit my blog at www.susanople.com)