"Since when did membership in the OWWA become a prerequisite for OFWs securing the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC)?"
This question was raised today by Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE HK) as members of the alliance and other concerned groups staged a lightning protest at the Philippine Consulate General (PCG).
The OEC is meant to prove the status of an overseas Filipino worker to avail of the travel tax exemption and airport terminal fees. While it is actually redundant because the OFWs already have travel documents as well as valid working visa as proof, the OEC is still required by the Philippine government before departure for vacationing migrants and would-be OFWs.
"We are alarmed by the growing number of complaints from OFWs who are being asked if they are active OWWA members before being issued the OEC. Never has this been a prerequisite. We know for a fact that the only requirements are the passport and employment contract. This arbitrary condition to demand proof of OWWA membership is condemnable and demands immediate investigation," she said.
Consistent to their policy of simply implementing without consulting the OFWs, the POLO officials take advantage of Filipinos trying to get home to visit their families, to extort hard-earned money for the graft-ridden OWWA.
"Labor Attache Romy Salud and the POLO should be made responsible for this treacherous implementation of the mandatory OWWA Membership via the OEC," she stressed.
This has been made worse by the fact that since 1996, OWWA membership contribution has been voluntary in Hong Kong because of the strong opposition of the OFWs, according to Balladares-Pelaez.
"The mandatory collection of OWWA membership through the OEC reeks of pre-election fundraising scam by the corrupt Arroyo administration just like the E-card that was used to trap OFWs into paying membership fees before the 2004 elections," she stressed.
From a collection of P6.2 billion in 2002, the trust fund has ballooned to P12 billion mostly from more than 3,000 first-time OFWs deployed abroad who pay the mandatory OWWA membership fees.
The OWWA Omnibus Policies was created just for the sole reason of increasing the collection of OWWA and giving freer rein for GMA to dip her hands on the fund. It never included improvement of services to OFWs who had to go through numerous loops just so we can get assistance from this office, Balladares-Pelaez attested.
"OFWs in Hong Kong will not allow this corrupt government to reverse the victory that we gained for a voluntary OWWA membership contribution in Hong Kong. More importantly, we shall assert our right to get the OEC without precondition," she affirmed.
Finally, UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK expects immediate and concrete action to be undertaken by PCG Consul General Claro Cristobal against this anomalous transaction of using the OEC to extort cash from OFWs by the POLO.
"This extortion has to stop now!", she concluded.
002: Edgar Robles, Spokesman of Bangon Pilipinas Movement - Hong Kong, narrates his personal experience as a victim of this new extortion activity in the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong. He was asked to produce proof of his OWWA membership and when he failed to do so, was denied of the OEC. He decided not to get the OEC as a sign of protest.
004: Rowena dela Cruz, Secretary General of MIGRANTE Partylist - Hong Kong, lambasted this new attempt to extort money from HK-based OFWs as she exposes this new treacherous practice as a move to take away the victory of OFWs in Hong Kong in resisting mandatory OWWA membership fee since 1996. Hong Kong is the only post exempted from the mandatory OWWA membership.
005: Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, Chairperson of UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK, hits on HK Labour Attache Romy Salud for instituting this new practice without prior consultation nor public announcement. She also hits on the Arroyo government's series of attempts to raise funds from the hard-earned money of OFWs as the 2010 presidential election draws near. She also calls on PCG-HK Consul General Claro Cristobal to look into this anomalous and arbitrary implementation of the office of the Labour Attache of making OWWA membership a prerequisite for obtaining OEC.