(Not) home for Christmas (2)
I received a very thoughtful response to my column “(Not) home for Christmas” (12/21/17) from Tourism Assistant Secretary Daniel Mercado. I’d like to give him this space today.
“… Mr. Peter Wallace wrote about our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are unable to be reunited with their families for Christmas because they had to work for their families. I agree with his sadness and affirm that OFWs’ welfare is one of the top priorities of the Duterte Administration as I personally witnessed the initiatives and reforms implemented by our government. I also affirm that the end-goal is to foster a business- and investment-friendly Philippines to create more employment opportunities and encourage Filipinos to work and stay in the country. While there have been significant leaps in implementing programs and policies that aim to protect our OFWs, ongoing efforts must be sustained. Government institutions that safeguard OFWs must be empowered to extend their authority and reach more OFWs needing assistance. Further, strong leadership is necessary to ensure that OFWs, especially those in areas that are far from Philippine embassies and consulates, are reached by the government.
“As I was settling down in the Naia airport lounge for a Christmas Eve flight to Cebu, feeling fortunate and blessed enough to travel home to my family for Christmas, I recalled my most recent trip to Dubai. The prime objective of the trip was to promote the Philippines as an untapped investment market and to network with airline ‘bigwigs,’ which ideally would create employment opportunities in the Philippines.
“However, I am always concerned with the plight of OFWs whose welfare and protection must be safeguarded. So while in Dubai, I met with fellow Filipinos who had helped in the campaign during my stint as national deputy campaign manager for then Mayor Duterte. So, after the Aviation Show Menasa, I was picked up by a good friend who whisked to the Dusit Thani Hotel Dubai where we had a few drinks and caught up with each other. After several Hoegaardens, he began sharing with me the pros and cons of living in Dubai. He illustrated to me how fortunate he was to find suitable work there and that he wanted to settle down for good. He said he much appreciated the functionality of the Dubai government, the discipline and adherence to the law.
“We visited his residence in a Filipino community in Dubai. He proudly showed me his Toyota Fortuner, as well as the apartment that he is amortizing at 3,000 UAE dirhams or AED (approximately P39,000) then leasing it to other workers for a gross 5,000 AED (approximately P65,000). He has been working in Dubai for over 12 years, and his story certainly wasn’t an overnight success story. As I looked around, I observed a small dining area, a hallway with what appears to have a kitchen to the left and two bathing rooms and four bedrooms on the right. When I looked at the rooms, I saw that they created subdividers and bunk beds. Each room can fit five people, so there are 20 people staying in a house that is only good for eight people. They barely had any space. Despite what I saw, the OFWs were happier living like that in Dubai than at home since life for them is worse in the Philippines.
“He also shared stories about the struggles of OFWs. According to him, local banks used to issue loans to OFWs, but many defaulted, which resulted in imprisonment. I expressed my concern over this, but he interrupted me and said that a solution had been provided. OFWs who could not afford to pay back the loans would no longer be jailed but would be imposed other penalties.
“I affirm the Duterte Administration’s commitment to address the issues affecting our OFWs. My heart goes restless every time I hear about their problems and persecutions. I am thus willing to trailblaze inclusive and innovative efforts to ensure that such issues will be addressed to come up with strategies that will improve OFWs’ plight. We could then safeguard the welfare and safety of these modern-day Filipino heroes and reduce the anxieties of their families left in the Philippines. With the right support and leadership from the Philippine government institutions that handle OFW concerns, we would be able to give back to OFWs who give tremendous wealth and pride to our country.”
E-mail: email@example.com. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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