Common sense, in absentia
Over the holidays, I have accumulated vignettes from overseas Filipino workers on vacation from their countries of work. Having been exposed to more stable governance, reliable services, and compatible systems, these Filipino expatriates would lament the lack of common sense in our own red tape-infested, messy and disjointed procedures and policies.
Fernan Santos, a regular chatter at the online chatroom of the daily Bantay OFW radio program over DZXL told me that he was actually called a “criminal” by a Bureau of Immigration agent at our international airport because he had a namesake on the NBI’s list of fugitives. After showing his own NBI clearance, employment contract and other papers proving that he was and had always been an overseas worker, the officer concerned relented but never apologized.
Fernan said that common sense would have long dictated that the Bureau of Immigration and the National Bureau of Investigation which are both under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice have a common database that is regularly revisited by both institutions. In this way, my OFW friend from Saudi added, the humiliation of being held and questioned because of bearing a similar name to a wanted person would be minimized or prevented.
Resistance has replaced common sense in the way the records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration remain devoid of compatibility. Both offices belong to one department but despite numerous crises abroad affecting thousands of OFWs, they each have their own databases unconnected by any digital bridge or software that would make timely search and verification procedures easier and faster to undertake.
If you look at how the work of different offices and agencies in government often overlap and converge, one is aghast at how simplified procedures are lost in translation and interpretation of various mandates and policies though the constituents may be one and the same.
“Archers”, an OFW based in Singapore, lamented how migrant workers are being charged mandatory membership in PhilHealth as if they were here and able to access all the benefits accruing to local workers. “Our company is obliged to provide us with health insurance so we barely are able to use our PhilHealth membership and yet, the agency wants to even increase our fees.”
Last December 15, the PhilHealth Board issued Circular No. 022 that would raise the contributions of OFW members from the current Php900 to Php1,200 in January then to Php2,400 in July of 2012. This two-step increase was done without prior consultations or notice to the public or the sector concerned. Common sense would have dictated that given President Aquino’s vow of consultations and transparency, the Board would at least have given notice to its members about the planned increase. Such lack of common sense is lamentable given the institution’s role of promoting good health without jeopardizing the otherwise healthy relationship it has with the OFW sector.
During a pre-New Year lunch at DZXL with our OFW friends, I also overheard one of them lamenting the proliferation of courtesy lanes in frontline agencies such as the POEA, DFA Consular Section, and even the Bureau of Immigration (for a certificate to clear one’s name for travel). “Courtesy lanes have become an incentive for laziness, requiring a customer to pay more to for efficient service,” he lamented. Others chimed in, saying that in countries such as Singapore and Saudi Arabia, one goes through the same lanes as others, shelling out predictable and reasonable rates, without hassle.
All these lamentations from our modern-day heroes remind me of a conversation I had with a Filipino diplomat assigned to a predominantly Muslim country. He lamented that while the Philippine Embassy and Filipino community leaders promote the Philippines as a tourist destination, they are unable to answer some basic questions from potential Muslim tourists. For example, does government even have a list of restaurants and hotels across the country that can provide Halal-certified food? We also do not have separate prayer rooms for men and women from Muslim countries in government offices, malls and tourist sites. We are insensitive to the needs of these Muslim tourists and yet we are surrounded by two major Muslim countries in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Perhaps we need a session or two to round up representatives from different sectors to just examine how uncommon common sense has become in the roll-out of various government services and projects. I, for one, would like to volunteer the involvement of the following OFWs and OFW relatives in such discussions: Fernan Santos, Ricky Tolentino, Rico Reyes, Nadene Pechayo, Eric Canlas and his wife, Raquel, Arnel Ragel. They comprise part of our regular chatters group at DZXL where my co-anchor Buddy Oberas and I maintain a two-hour public service program for OFWs.
Governance is much better when little things get solved. It pays to “shrink the change” rather than wait for entire mountains to move themselves. The more common sense fades away in governance, the higher the cost in public trust. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople)