Coming Soon:No worker can leave for abroad without paying Php 600 to Pag-IBIG
I believe that many overseas Filipino workers do dream of owning their own houses. I do not fault Pag-IBIG Fund for wanting to market its programs to a growing base of over nine million workers overseas. I am glad that a lot of overseas and local workers have enrolled in this housing program out of their desire to own a house someday. However, it seems to me absolutely unfair and arbitrary to use “welfare” and “shelter” as twin excuses for a law to compel our modern-day heroes to be part of the Pag-IBIG Fund. Because of RA No. 9679 or the Home Development Mutual Fund Law (Pag-IBIG Law), every departing worker shall soon be required to show proof of membership — through submissions of the accredited recruitment agency to the POEA — as a prerequisite to the issuance of his or her Overseas Employment Certificate.
In earlier times, all the legal processes that an OFW has to go through prior to departure were meant to ensure his or her protection onsite, and welfare services to the family left behind. Today, an OFW has to contend with a plethora of fees aside from the usual salary deduction that has taken the place of placement fees. He or she is mandated by law to have PhilHealth coverage, undergo pre-departure orientation seminars (Php 100 fee), medical check-ups, trade tests, and now, a six-month advance contribution to the Pag-IBIG Fund (@Php 100 per month contribution).
I ask: were OFW groups even invited to public hearings about mandatory coverage for OFWs? Right now, under this law, the universal membership coverage covers the following: all employees who are compulsorily covered by the SSS; all employees who are subject to mandatory coverage by the GSIS; uniformed members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Philippine National Police, and Filipinos employed by foreign-based employers.
Jaime Fabiana, chief executive order of the Pag-IBIG Fund explained that, “the universal coverage aims to strengthen Pag-IBIG’s membership base and expand the reach of the Fund’s affordable housing and short-term and competitive low-interest loan programs to as many people as possible.”
But what if the OFW already owns a house? What if he or she has other priorities? What if some overseas workers prefer to exercise free will over where their money should be spent? Isn’t this the hallmark of democracy? Or are we a welfare state by imposition and when convenient – only over sectors that government can easily control? Will not such exactions lead more job applicants to look at unprotected but swifter means of departure – despite knowing the dangers attached to such anomalous verbal transactions? And as the cash continues to flow from destinations across the globe, what extraordinary benefits can an overseas Pag-IBIG member and his/her family enjoy? Same as the others? Perhaps an entertainment roadshow sponsored by the Fund from time to time? Do these incoming members even understand how the Fund works?
It is no wonder that most Filipino overseas workers feel that they are more milking cows than modern-day heroes. Can’t the Pag-IBIG Fund be lovable by itself without the forceful application of a law? And why should any worker be asked to pay six months in advance even before leaving and earning a single month’s salary? I find this six-months’ rule such an unjust and perhaps even unlawful imposition; yet, the memorandum circular issued by the POEA provides that a recruitment agency can not process the application of a worker unless he is Pag-IBIG member who had paid the six-month membership in advance. And I thought hostage-taking is ripe only in Somalia. Again, I ask – who truly benefits more from this six months’ scheme? The multi-billion Fund? Or the cash-strapped and indebted OFW?