"When they could not officially shove down our throats the collection of OWWA fee through the OEC, they use sly tactics to still ensure payment from OFWs."
This was declared today Dolores Balladares, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK), after receiving reports that OFWs applying for an Overseas Employment Certificate or OEC are again being charged of the OWWA fee as a pre-condition for said document or are being asked by recruitment agencies to pay the said fee to process their contracts despite the moratorium on the mandatory collection of OWWA fee set by POLO-HK head Romulo Salud last January.
UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK and GABRIELA-HK held a protest action at the Philippine Consulate General office today to condemn what they believed as devious ways of the OWWA to generate more income during this period of graduation rites in the Philippines when OFWs are sure to take their vacation and thus apply for an OEC to get exempted from travel tax and terminal fee in the Philippines.
According to Balladares, said reports came from their members who knew about the moratorium and yet were still asked to pay the OWWA when they applied for an OEC. Only when they asserted the halt on such practice were they given the certificate.
"How about those unsuspecting OFWs who are unaware of the moratorium? For sure they have been asked the same at the OEC counter and were duped into paying a fee that should not be required to get an OEC," she remarked.
The moratorium ends on June this year but, Balladares relayed, no mandatory collection of OWWA fee should be implemented without any sufficient consultation with OFWs as the POLO-HK, through former Labatt Bernardino Julve, promised in 2002.
Meanwhile, even OFWs who are processing their new contracts in Hong Kong are also being asked by recruitment agencies to pay the OWWA using a memorandum about mandatory collection that the POLO-HK issued in 2005 and were circulated among recruiters.
"Are Labatt Salud, OWWA and the POLO-HK playing us for fools? They declare a moratorium when OFW organizations are present but do the reverse for individual OFWs lining up to get an OEC. This is not only underhanded but brazen extortion," Balladares said
Accoding to the group, they are more opposed now to the forced collection of the OWWA fee in the face of what they deemed as the agency's failure to provide sufficient and timely services to OFWs. Balladares said that the continued existence of the OWWA Omnibus Policies deprive OFWs of needed services while ensuring the governmet's arbitrary use of the funds for other ends.
"OWWA and the GMA government have no business forcing us to pay for something that we know will not go to our welfare. Their utter obsession to make us do so even through sneaky means shows their drive for income and extortion and not on services and proteksyon. Such is the rottenness of the OWWA Omnibus Polices that we demand to be scrapped," she added.
Balladares said that the resumption of collection of mandatory fee is made more ominous as it is also happening during the time when the GMA government needs all the money it can get for the coming polls.
"It is not far-fetched to think that GMA and her camp will use the OWWA money to advance their electoral bids. It happened before with the transfer of OWWA Medicare to PhilHealth and it can surely happen again," she stated.
According to the group, government exaction has been intensifying recently as shown by the said collection of OWWA fee for an OEC as well as the earlier pronouncements from Pag-IBIG that their membership will also be mandatory for OFWs. Pag-IBIG officials said in a forum with OFW leaders that they will not implement mandatory collection but later on denied such statement.
Balladares said that they will again gather Filipino organizations to resist this collection scheme. She relayed that they will seek out Labatt Salud and "have him hold on to his words to the OFW community." They also urged PCG-HK Consul General Claro Cristobal to look into the matter.
"OEC must be issued without precondition as a right of OFWs. Any move to do otherwise will be met by the strongest opposition of migrant workers," she concluded.