Press Release
June 7, 2011

Privilege Speech
By Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona III

Job padding at the POEA
Session Hall, Senate of the Philippines

Good afternoon Mr. President, and to my fellow senators of this august chamber. Today is Migrant Workers' Day.

And as I rise on a matter of personal privilege, Mr. President, more than a thousand OFW dependents are gathered at the SMX to celebrate this day. The Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration, the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines jointly launched a Php 2-billion reintegration fund to help returning OFWs put up a business of their own.

I expect the usual rhetoric about the extraordinary contributions of our OFWs as modern-day heroes to abound today. I expect the usual promises from every nook and corner of the bureaucracy, to see to their needs, to protect them from harm, to nurture and nourish their families with hope.

Yet, have we really done enough for them? Are they truly protected? Or is our own government - their government - also a party to the abuse and exploitation of their rights and welfare?

I raise these questions, Mr. President, because the sole agency entrusted with ensuring the safe, legal, and yes, protected departure of our OFWs is now under investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation at the behest of no less than its administrator.

I refer to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

The POEA was created by presidential decree in 1982 as the main overseer and developer of the overseas employment program.

To date, it has a daily clientele of 3,000 to as many as 5,000 a day. It is the only agency tasked to regulate more than two thousand licensed recruitment agencies and manning agencies that deploy our land-based and sea-based workers.

During the time when the much-revered Ka Blas Ople headed the labor department, overseas job applicants were always told to have their contracts approved by the POEA.

"Kapag hindi lisensyado ang ahensya ng POEA, tiyak na illegal recruitment 'yan." Kapag may tatak ng POEA, legal ang proseso.

That was then, Mr. President.

Today, the POEA is under a heavy cloud of doubt after its own administrator, Atty. Carlos Cao, Jr., admitted with a heavy heart that indeed corruption reigns in his backyard. A POEA employee confessed to being involved in the padding of job orders in favor of certain recruitment agencies.

Sa sampung job order para sa domestic helper, Mr. President, sa isang pindot sa keyboard, nagiging isangdaan. Yung sobra, binebenta o pinapagamit sa ibang mga ahensya kapalit ay komisyon.

The same employee admitted that she earned P1, 000 per job order padded. Administrator Cao, in a TV interview, recounted that this employee was able to accumulate Php 2-million in eleven months simply by increasing the job orders assigned to "client-agencies". Hindi po dagdag-bawas ito, puro dagdag lang ang nangyayari. At sa bawat dinadagdag, automatic ang isang libong pisong pabuya sa kanyang bulsa.

How long has this been going on? No one can say for sure though it seems like no one within the POEA was really surprised by this employee's confession.

That job padding has been going on at the POEA is an open secret among licensed recruitment agencies. This is also the reason why so many of our workers hold on to POEA-approved contracts only to be just as vulnerable as the next undocumented migrant worker once they leave.

May mga pagkakataon na ang isang aplikante ay nag-apply, nagbayad, at bumisita paulit-ulit sa opisina ng isang lisenyadong ahensya pagkatapos ang kanilang Overseas Employment Certificate na mula sa POEA ay ibang ahensya na ang nakalagay.

May mga pagkakataon na ang OFW ay kasambahay pero na-process bilang waitress o utility worker o sales lady gamit ang mga pekeng job orders na ito.

Reprocessing po ang tawag dito. Iba ang employment agency na inaplayan sa agency na nagpaalis. Kasi hindi magkatugma ang job orders dahil sa job padding na naganap.

Mr. President, ang kapalit po ng isang libong binulsa sa bawat numero na dinagdag ay ilang gabing paghagulgol ng isang OFW na baon sa utang, pinagsasamantalahan, at humihiling ng saklolo para makauwi na lamang.

Ang masaklap, ayon na mismo sa mga nagiimbestiga sa mga anomalyang ito - ay nasa tip of the iceberg pa lang daw sila.

We need urgent and permanent reforms at the POEA, Mr. President.

We need an in-depth investigation not only on the padding of job orders but also on other acts of corruption and connivance between some POEA officials, and employees with unscrupulous licensed recruitment agencies.

Before anything else, we need to clean up the POEA registry of unscrupulous agencies that have repeatedly violated the rules and regulations imposed upon them by our government. I urge the NBI and the POEA to come up with a list of licensed agencies that paid for their job orders to be padded so that their licenses can be cancelled and criminal charges can be filed against them as illegal recruiters.

I propose a more stringent screening and approval process for new licenses that would include extensive public hearings and publication of the names and faces of those wanting to go into overseas recruitment.

I seek the overhaul of the POEA website so that an overseas job applicant can verify at lightning speed whether a licensed agency had a previous string of complaints leveled against it. For A-list agencies with clean records over the years, incentives for sustainability and growth must be made available.

I am for legislation that would improve and strengthen the POEA as a regulatory body, removing from its mandate the marketing of our overseas workers, which contradicts its own oversight functions over the recruitment industry; for how can you regulate an industry that you also rely on for marketing services?

Mr. President, there is a pending resolution filed by Senator Antonio Trillanes calling for a Senate inquiry by the Blue Ribbon committee on the alleged anomalies within the POEA.

This humble representation as committee chair is now engaged in talks with the NBI and the leadership of the POEA as to the appropriate timing of our own Senate inquiry.

We have no intention of impeding the ongoing investigation by the NBI. But certainly, we will not give up our mandate of legislative oversight especially when allegations of human trafficking and illegal recruitment have placed the POEA under the darkest clouds of doubt.

My friends, ladies, and gentlemen of this Chamber, today is Migrant Workers' Day.

Our OFWs hold up more than half of our economic sky. They send more children to school than all government scholarships combined. They feed more people than the CCT program of DSWD can hope to accomplish. They build houses more than that envisioned by the creators of the Pag-IBIG Fund.

The least we could do is to ensure their protection and guarantee the integrity of their documents before they leave.

The least we can promise them is for good governance to reign, for the corruption to stop, and for their interests to prevail in all of the agencies created to serve our OFWs.

If the POEA as the sole regulatory agency for licensed recruitment agencies is weighed down by corruption and stands accused of being a party to the illegal recruitment of our workers, then what kind of protection can we afford those who leave the country through legitimate means?

If we even need to regulate the regulator, then what becomes of our moral ascendancy to require, if not demand, labor-receiving countries to take better care of our workers?

And if the padding of job orders is but the tip of the iceberg as far as anomalies in the POEA is concerned, then how many OFWs should be compensated by this agency for being an instrument to their degradation and exploitation?

Ilan na bang OFWs ang napaluha at pinapaluha dahil hindi ginampanan ng mga taga-POEA ang kanilang trabaho?

Mr. President, we believe that a great majority of officials and employees of the POEA sincerely care for our OFWs; are decent and law-abiding and are thus able to sleep well at night.

Our overseas workers deserve to know the truth about alleged anomalies within the POEA. No less than their lives are at stake.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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