Overseas Filipino workers have long been called the nation’s “bagong bayani” (new heroes), earning the accolade not because they give up their lives for the country, or fight for its sovereignty or independence, but because by their sacrifices, they support their families and keep the Philippine economy afloat.
Not only that, by their hard work, creativity, positive work attitude and personal attributes, they endear themselves to their employers and customers, creating a generally good impression of the Philippines and of Filipinos.
And yet, as recent news and headlines have shown, our OFWs have been subject to the shocks and insecurities of the world economy, feeling the heat as employers face dwindling income, and being the first to be laid off or deported. Worse, violence and political turmoil abroad have resulted in hundreds of workers displaced and under threat, necessitating rescue and repatriation. And in Taiwan, for instance, political disputes between our governments have resulted in insecurity for our workers there, starting with a ban on the hiring of OFWs which, it is hoped, would soon be lifted after the release of the results of the investigation on the incident that triggered the diplomatic impasse.
And yet, back home, aspiring, returning or repatriating OFWs must deal with a bewildering round of transactions with different government agencies—primarily the Department of Labor and Employment (through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) and the Department of Foreign Affairs—to secure their papers, get permits, attend predeparture seminars, or even seek help abroad when their dealings with employers or citizens of host countries go awry.
“Despite the significant contributions of our overseas Filipino workers over the years,” says new Pangasinan Rep. Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas, “there is no single agency in the government which attends to their needs.” Several disasters and emergencies abroad, she adds, “have highlighted once again the need to enhance our capability in servicing migrant Filipino workers.”
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ARENAS has thus filed, as her first legislative measure, a bill calling for the creation of the “Department of Overseas Workers,” to “prepare, integrate, coordinate, supervise, and control all plans, programs, projects and activities of the government relative to overseas employment.”
Having served as a board member of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) in Taiwan, the Philippines’ de facto embassy there, Arenas had seen first-hand the plight of OFWs. In the case of a Filipino worker imprisoned after she allegedly killed her recruiter, Arenas herself visited the worker several times in the prison where she was held, with the Meco arranging for legal representation.
Thus, she speaks from experience when she declares that “we need to elevate the protection of [workers’] welfare to a department level so that we can consolidate all agencies … and their pertinent units in other agencies to provide a purposeful and comprehensive approach to their needs.”
With a “Department of OFWs,” the title of “new heroes” may yet stop being ironical or comical to our overseas workers.
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IT’S an old journalistic story. A bidder for a government project loses to a competitor, but instead of simply shrugging his shoulders and walking away (perhaps to look for another transaction), the loser launches an attack on the winner of the bid and even on the agency.
The easiest way to attract public attention is to allege some irregularity in the bidding process. “Public interest” is cited by claiming the deal is grossly disadvantageous to the government, or that some people in government “profited” unlawfully from the whole enterprise.
Of course, the identity of the accuser alone, and the conflict of interest inherent in the accusation, should sound a warning bell. But with talk of corruption and twisted dealings all the rage in the media these days—and with good reason—any suggestion of wrongdoing gets its 15 minutes of airing.
This is the case with the bidding for printing machines and related services for the production of “security strip stamps” for use by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The APO Production Unit, the designated printer for the stamps, has started bidding out the P198-million contract. But right away, APO officials have been dragged into a firestorm when they allowed bidders to offer “second-hand or refurbished” printing equipment instead of insisting on brand-new ones.
“In the first place, we can’t afford the cost of brand-new printers, at least of printing machines made in Europe where the best machines are made,” says Jaime Aldaba, EVP and general manager of APO. He describes the Europe-made machines as “reliable, consistent, high-quality, fast output.”
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ON THE other hand, he says, the losing bidder offered the use of machines made in China which, he says, are “poor-quality, inconsistent, unreliable, [and] may compromise security features.”
The “news” about the supposedly flawed bidding overseen by APO reached media outlets the same day after the second bidding, which was attended by representatives of the Commission on Audit and the private sector. Indeed, the whole process was even videotaped to “ensure full transparency.”
The APO story is itself a “turnaround tale,” of an agency that doesn’t get any subsidy from government, which was once bled dry by its government-appointed managers. But today, the APO, under the Presidential Communications and Operations Office headed by Secretary Sonny Coloma, has posted a P10.1-million profit, after paying a lot of arrears incurred by the previous management.