Holding a Philippine passport hostage
Every Sunday, nearly a million job applicants open the classified ads to look at job vacancies spread across the globe. Among them are aspiring overseas Filipino workers who are forced by personal circumstances to consider overseas work as an option for economic survival.
They would turn up on a bright and early Monday morning, classified ads in hand and with vital documents enclosed in brown envelopes or folders, and wait for their turn to inquire about overseas jobs from licensed recruitment agencies.
A staff would brief these applicants, and encourage them to fill up the necessary forms and submit the pertinent documents. Processing fees and administrative costs shall be discussed. The applicants would leave with hopes higher than the most colorful hot air balloon.
In most of these cases, the licensed agency lives up to all expectations and the applicant is able to leave the country without a hitch. Unfortunately, some agencies and foreign employers take their time to make such sweet dreams come true.
Months would pass and life happens. A daughter gets sick, a job offer across nearby seas lands in one’s lap, or an applicant decides to follow a different track. He or she goes back to the licensed agency, meets with the same staff, and requests for the kind return of passports and documents. The agency refuses. A litany of words spew like volcanic ash from the outraged staff about all kinds of expenses and awkward conversations with potential employers who will become irate because of the applicant’s unprofessional behavior. Then the clincher: passport’s applicant would be returned but only after he or she pays a certain amount.
The passport, and all kinds of dreams and aspirations that go with it, are held hostage by the licensed recruitment agency. Of course, the reasons that shall be presented by the agency owners are pragmatic, because what if they did advance some money for the processing of papers? What about the inconvenience of looking for another suitable candidate? After all, it would just be a matter of weeks or days before the visa comes through.
When Atty. Koko Pimentel was still my co-anchor at DZXL’s “Bantay OFW” public service radio program, he and I would be appalled at the number of job applicants requesting for advice because their licensed agencies refused to return their passports. I remember him telling me that if and when he gets to the Senate, he would pass legislation against this practice.
Is it right for these agencies under such circumstances to hold on to an applicant’s passport? The answer is a resounding no.
The Philippine Passport Act of 1996 states that the Philippine passport is the property of the Philippine government. That’s right. Your passport may bear your name but you don’t own it.
Following this logic, no other entity or individual can use your passport to compel you to do anything, much less to pay up for its retrieval.
True to his word, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III recently filed a Senate bill to penalize such passport-for-ransom schemes being employed by illegal recruiters and unscrupulous licensed recruitment agencies.
In it, the bar topnotcher asks that those found guilty of withholding government issued identification cards such as PRC licenses, driver’s license, and Philippine passport, would face a minimum of six years in jail and a fine of twenty thousand pesos.
I believe that this bill is a vital deterrence tool since it imposes specific penalties for those who seize or refuse to turn over government-issued IDs to its holders knowing fully well how important such documents are to fulfill simple transactions – from opening a bank account to applying for work abroad.
Dear Reader, if you are among those forced to shell out money to reclaim a passport or government-issued ID from an individual or agency, please write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit me and Atty. Gwen Pimentel-Gana (Koko’s most capable sister) at DZXL, 4th floor of the Edsa Guadalupe Mall adjacent to the MRT Guadalupe station. Gwen and I serve as co-anchors of Bantay OFW at DXL from Monday to Friday, 12.30 noon to 2.30 pm. We would be interested in hearing your stories. We would be happy to solicit your support for Koko’s bill.
Meanwhile, if you know of anyone whose passport is being held hostage by a private recruitment firm or any agency or even just an individual, tell him or her that the passport is not owned by anyone. It is the property of the State. No one must profit from its misappropriation.
There will come a day that the Philippine passport shall be used with greater frequency by a majority of Filipinos for leisurely travel rather than desparate economic escapes. Each of us are obligated under the law to protect its integrity and dignity. That passport represents our sovereignty as a people. It cannot and must not be subjugated by people out to profit from someone else’s woes.