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Sisyphus’ Lament

Can government randomly imprison OFWs?

/ 05:11 AM November 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — Can Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III randomly imprison people for two weeks? Or if that is too dramatic, prohibit us from traveling to Mindanao because of martial law? Or to Metro Manila to ease Asean Summit traffic?

Why is this patently absurd, but not when all overseas Filipino workers may not start jobs for two weeks?

Our Constitution’s Article III, Section 6 enshrines “liberty of abode and of changing the same” and “right to travel.” These are as basic as the rights to speak, to pray and to think.


And Article III, Section 6 was added to prohibit how foreign travel clearances were required by the Marcos dictatorship.

If Bello detains someone, he must give compelling justification. Bello may not generally reverse this and ask everyone to explain why he travels, just as he cannot make us explain why we post on Facebook or read the Bible.

The 1988 Drilon decision upheld a limited ban by then Labor Secretary Franklin Drilon on female workers to 10 countries. However, it emphasized that broad, universal bans are “unreasonable and arbitrary.”

But last Nov. 10, Friday, issue of overseas employment certificates (OECs) for new OFWs was suddenly suspended
from Nov. 13 to Dec. 1, supposedly to investigate corruption.

Last April, OEC issues were suspended for all direct hires or those not going through a recruitment agency.

OECs are exit permits. Despite work visa and waiting job, no OFW may fly without an OEC.

These bans are clearly disruptive and will cost some OFWs their jobs. But beyond disruption, OFWs must articulate blatant, sweeping evisceration of the right to travel, without even any notice.

The mindset is that all OFWs are prohibited from traveling unless they get permission. Any OFW may be stopped at the boarding gate, anytime.


It is inconceivable for the Land Transportation Office to suddenly stop issuing driver’s licenses, but a different Constitution applies to OFWs. Past abuse included an OFW flying out of Kalibo forced to buy a ticket to Manila to get an OEC because there was no OEC desk at Kalibo airport.

OFWs are told OEC issuance is now more convenient. Clearly, it can be made inconvenient anytime. Clearly, it is nothing short of an institutionalized human rights violation.

Speaking to professionals in Singapore last Sept. 2, Bello argued: “You have to be deployed through an agency… [kung] may nangyari sa iyo, may hahabulin kami. Hoy, p*tangina mong agency ka, anong nangyari sa pinadala kong household service worker? … Ngayon kung direct hire ka, wala kang agency, sinong hahabulin ko?”

Bello pronounced to an incredulous senior banker that an officer transferring from a global bank’s Manila to Singapore office must go through a recruitment agency, although he exercises “discretion” on a “case-to-case” basis. Bello gave a similar answer to an IT professional.

Bello is serious that if Lito Camacho, vice chairman of Asia-Pacific of Credit Suisse, the “petmalu lodi” of Singapore OFWs, were invited to be an international bank’s global CEO, he must refer them to a Manila recruitment agency or get Bello’s permission.

Same answer if Harvard Law School invited International Criminal Court Judge Raul Pangalangan to be its dean or The New York Times invited Inquirer executive editor Joey Nolasco to lead it.

Same answer if an aspiring Dado Banatao were personally invited to One Hacker Way by Mark Zuckerberg or an aspiring Lea Salonga were personally invited to London’s West End by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Currently, such professionals (8 percent of new OFWs in 2015) need protection from our government, not foreign employers. Blanket prohibitions must be replaced with targeted regulations. Clearly, the procedures for household service workers (38 percent) should not be applied to nurses (4 percent).

OFW regulations’ central presumption is that the Philippines is a jail and Bello is the warden. The Constitution is suspended inside. No one leaves without a Marcos-style travel clearance.

One hopes Bello listens to OFWs invoking the right to travel before he has to listen to the Supreme Court.

React:, Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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TAGS: OFWs Mindanao martial law, Oscar Franklin Tan, Silvestre Bello III, Sisyphus’ Lament
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