Government auditors rule failure of migration policies in protecting OFWs
By Madelaine Joy A. Estrada
Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
The following article was part of OFWJC's special publication 'Move.' The magazine was given to all delegates of GFMD Philippines.
INSURANCE agent Lilian Baltazar couldn’t put illegal recruiter Joel behind bars – he already is.
The ability to operate a scam in prison highlights what government auditors discovered in its appraisal of Philippine policies on recruitment for overseas work. The Commission on Audit concludes a state policy failure in arresting illegal recruitment.
Take Baltazar’s experience as anecdotal example.
She said she was thrilled upon hearing from the neighborhood grapevine about reported job vacancies for caregivers in New Zealand.
Baltazar enrolled and passed a short caregiving training course.
She said her neighbor then gave her the mobile phone number of a certain “Joel” who won her trust so much she gave him her address in Novaliches, Quezon City.
He spoke a language “that seemed too realistic, true, and sincere,” Baltazar said.
Then “Susan” came to her home, introduced herself to Baltazar as a Thai national, and accepted P50,000 as processing fee.
Baltazar withdrew her savings, borrowed money, paid Susan, and together with her neighbors flew to Hong Kong where Joel said he would give them their papers.
Days passed and Baltazar’s group was stuck at the Crown Colony.
“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Baltazar rued.
While preparing a legal case against Joel in the hope of getting back her money, Baltazar discovered Joel is already languishing in jail for estafa.
He was running a scam using mobile phones and contacts outside prison.
While Baltazar’s predicament is largely her own making, her story mirrors COA’s findings that the Philippine government “may not be considered effective” in regulating the overseas recruitment market, especially in providing responsive services to potential overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
For a labor-sending government that manages daily overseas departures reaching 3,000, the COA’s first appraisal of the country’s overseas workers welfare program reveals the Philippine labor migration bureaucracy’s weak spots.
Curbing illegal recruitment is one of these inefficiencies, as efforts by the POEA “may not be considered adequate,” wrote COA in its 107-page audit that covered the years 2005 and 2006.
Lesser numbers of entrapment operations (a total of 54 covering the two years) and of people manning these operations (only three) targeting reportedly erring recruitment agencies were noted in the COA audit.
Surveillance operations at erring agencies were also less in number than what POEA itself targeted: 300 every year. The operations even dropped, from 215 in 2005 to 78 in 2006.
The 26-year-old POEA was also observed not to maintain a database of recruitment agencies that are to be subjected to inspection.
While there are also regular agency inspections, these agencies are not examined for quite some time, thus “could not be readily ascertained, and their violations not at once detected.”
The POEA inspected 1,178 recruiters in 2006, more than the agency’s annual target of 1,040. But the government agency couldn’t detect properly if these recruiters complied with existing rules and regulations on overseas employment, according to the COA report.
Our human and financial resources are limited, POEA officials were quoted as saying in COA’s report.
However, the six-person COA team led by Ma. Dolores Ilagan said that the decrease in the number of surveillance operations “could not be attributed to the decrease in the number of operatives.”
LIMITATIONS in monitoring recruitment agencies and spotting and nabbing illegal recruiters are just among the “ineffective policies and lapses in the implementation” of the Philippines’s overseas workers welfare program.
The ineffective policies COA noted include uncollected fines from erring recruitment agencies, and the maintenance of escrow deposits for these agencies. These deficiencies were then compounded, COA adds, by illegal recruitment, lack of database of recruitment agencies, slow resolution of cases against recruiters, money claims and benefits for victimized OFWs, selective deployment of workers to safe countries, coordination between POEA and the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs), and expenses for workers’ repatriation.
COA reviewed OFW-related policies and rules, verified the processing of overseas employment contracts, analyzed the accomplishment reports of five agencies involved in the overseas employment program, assessed the release of money claims to OFWs, and interviewed key government officials in the Philippines and in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
It marked the first time that COA audited the country’s overseas employment program as part of a government-wide and sectoral performance report (GWSPA).
The Department of Labor and Employment and its attached agencies POEA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the National Labor Relations Commission were audited. The Department of Foreign Affairs’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (Oumwa) was also audited.
The five agencies spent P1.737 billion in 2005 and P1.626 billion in 2006, as the government deployed 981,677 and 1,062,567 workers in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
DOLE and DFA officials acknowledged the comments of COA, and are in the process “of initiating such improvements.”
In the meantime, illegal recruiters remain undetected and continue to victimize would-be and current OFWs.
“The ability to better serve customers (i.e., OFWs) is founded on sound regulation (and) there is a need to ensure that such regulations are strictly enforced.”
Since labor migration continues, COA’s team recommended that POEA impose “stringent policies” especially since these do not compel recruitment agencies “to strictly abide with existing rules and regulations.”
In general, the government auditors place on the hands of the state the welfare and protection of OFWs and potential migrant workers.
OFW Journalism Consortium with the support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines